'Act of bastardry': Wharfies' Christmas bonus cancelled after smoke haze stopped work
By Dana McCauley
Wharfies at Sydney's Port Botany have been stripped of $120,000 worth of bonuses after stopping work at the busy docks due to poor air quality caused by bushfires.
Maritime Union of Australia branch secretary Paul McAleer said port operator DP World had cancelled a fortnight's worth of productivity-based bonuses for its 600 workers, who had "worked in good faith" to catch up on much of the time lost to "unavoidable" stoppages.
The union is preparing to take the employer to the Fair Work Commission for docking 60 workers about $20,000 worth of pay over a six-hour work stoppage on December 5, when Sydney was blanketed in heavy, billowing smoke that was predicted to linger for two days.
"The fact the company did that is an act of bastardry, particularly going on Christmas," Mr McAleer told The Sydney Morning Herald.
"We want to ensure workers aren't disadvantaged as a consequence of looking after their health and safety ... No worker should be docked pay due to the climate crisis."
Hazardous levels of air pollution were recorded on December 5, with the state Environment Department reporting "some of the highest air pollution ever seen in NSW" and the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting a "temperature inversion" that would "trap the smoke" in the Sydney basin.
It is understood DP World agreed to pay workers who stopped work for several hours in the early afternoon, but is refusing to pay those who downed tools on the evening shift.
DP World, which has paid workers for a total of four part-day stoppages over air quality in recent weeks, will also pay workers for a heat-related stoppage on Thursday. The company declined to comment on Thursday.
Mr McAleer called on state and federal governments to "address the public health emergency caused by bushfire smoke" and "rectify the completely inadequate responses to this major health crisis".
"The people of NSW, and more broadly across the whole country, are faced with a climate crisis driving the largest bushfire season ever and [morally] bankrupt conservative governments can't even buy a plane nor equip the community and firefighters to adequately deal with this inevitability," he said.He said workers were "exposed to the consequences" of politicians' failure to act on the advice of scientific experts to address climate change and that guidance was needed from SafeWork NSW to clarify employers' obligations when managing the risks of bushfire smoke.
A spokesperson for SafeWork NSW said the organisation "is advising businesses and employers to proactively manage health and safety risks to workers even if the environment they are working in is not completely within their control".
"If workers are exposed to health and safety risks from bushfire smoke, the best option is to consider stopping work until the risk is no longer present or moving workers to a safer location."
The spokesperson suggested employers consult with workers about bushfire smoke and "determine if any workers have asthma or other respiratory issues" and "consider providing workers with P2 masks if they are outside for extended periods".