Wharf two, Circular Quay, Sydney. It’s nearing 8am and a two-hour stoppage on NRMA’s Manly Fast Ferries is about to begin. A manager struts up and down the wharf as a ferry crewed by a scab skipper comes in to dock. 

A day prior, the boss had gloated that Manly Fast Ferries would suffer no cancellations due to the planned stoppage and would run on time. An early morning lockout of all union skippers and the introduction of scab workers was organised in an effort to make this claim a reality.

At issue is the fact that skippers are paid under the charter award rather than the ferry award, which leaves them $136.37 per week worse off. 

The Fair Work Commission allows the NRMA to get away with this because it runs a limited charter service for whale watching, even though the overwhelming majority of the company’s work consists of ferrying passengers from wharf to wharf.

In addition to this, the skippers are highly casualised, and those who speak up over safety concerns or other union issues face “death by roster” – the practice of having their shifts cut as retribution, forcing many to resign or find work elsewhere. 

On top of this blatant wage theft and exploitation, the NRMA has offered workers a pay rise of zero percent. Negotiations on the almost four-year-old agreement have reached deadlock after six months, prompting workers to vote for the two-hour stoppage. 

Back at the wharf, the crowd of Maritime Union of Australia members, joined by supporters from other unions, are refusing to stand by and watch their campaign sail away. They vote to move the demonstration to the wharf and spontaneously occupy the ferries on wharves two and six at Circular Quay and also at the Manly Wharf. In keeping with management’s zero percent pay offer, the crowd ensures zero percent of Manly Fast Ferries will operate during the stoppage.

Management, previously confident about their lockout and scab tactics, is forced to announce that all Manly Fast Ferries are suspended. The workers declare the battle won and commit to further strikes if management refuses to meet their demands.