The Guardian 2 February, 2005

MUA says "Reinstate David Swales!"

Janice Hamilton

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members in Sydney staged a peaceful rally outside the offices of Captain Cook Cruises in Circular Quay on January 25. After the multi-national cruise company cancelled its lunchtime cruise, demonstrators took their protest over to Darling Harbour, marching to the underground offices of Sydney Manager Anthony Howard.

They took the action in solidarity with Captain Cook union delegate David Swales, who was sacked for taking annual leave over Christmas and New Year to be with his partner and her family in Poland.

David had put in a leave application months before his trip. A few weeks before he and his girlfriend were to leave, management announced he could not go in fact no employee was to take holidays over Christmas and New Year.

By this stage David had already booked and paid for a very expensive ticket to Europe, which he was told by the airline he could not change.

Having worked every Christmas and New Year for the last four years, he had gone to his Senior Manager who had said that it would be OK. The Senior Manager even offered him his best wishes for the trip.

When David returned six weeks later, he was sacked.

At the demonstration MUA Sydney Branch Assistant Secretary Warren Smith, in calling for management to come out of hiding and negotiate with union officials, said that it was more likely that he was sacked for being a union delegate rather than for taking holidays.

"Captain Cook cruises is very good at bullying and intimidating its workforce, especially women, but when it comes to facing us they run and hide."

The MUA says that workers are confronted on a daily basis with such problems as:

  • Disregard of safety concerns

  • Reduction in working hours for "not towing the company line"

  • When they raise issues of concern, workers are told "if you don't like it ... then leave!"

  • Little or no workplace training

  • Management often making threatening calls to workers' homes

  • No career advancement

  • 80 per cent of the workforce are casual with no job security

  • Below award wages and poor working conditions

  • Harassment for joining a union

    "We've had women in tears for being called fat or for being told they couldn't have a day off to look after young children", said MUA Assistant Branch Secretary Paul Garret.

    "Crew were refused counselling after fishing a dead body out the harbour, the boss has been attempting to force members into signing individual contracts; young men and women are regularly forced to extend their shift after 1am, then given no assistance to get home in the middle of the night to places like Cabramatta, and Meadowbank. The boss refused to address safety issues such as asbestos on board until the union called in the relevant authorities (WorkCover)."

    Captain Cook Cruises, according to its website claims to be a small family based and family-friendly company. In fact, it is hardly small. The company has assets in excess of $80 million and earns up to $100 million annually. They operate daily cruises in Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, the Murray River, the Fiji Islands as well as running weekend safaris in Sydney and Fiji.

    Demonstrators voted unanimously to continue peaceful assemblies on a weekly basis until the company meets with workers and union officials or until David is reinstated by the company or the Industrial Relations Commission.

    David's unfair dismissal claim is listed for Conciliation hearing on February 10 at the NSW IRC at 2pm, Hearing Room 1, Level 8 Flight Centre Building, 815-825 George Street, Sydney.

    In the mean time the MUA is calling for supporters to contact the Manager of Captain Cook Cruises in Sydney, Anthony Howard on (02) 9206 1122 or 0425 260 204 and demand David Swales reinstatement.

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