Australia's biggest port operator DP World has called workers back from holidays after docking the pay packets of those who refused to work outdoors during the height of Sydney's bushfire smoke haze.
DP World manager Mark Hulme told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Monday that "a small percentage of employees with key skills in both operations and engineering have had their leave cancelled in order to maintain operations".
Mr Hulme also confirmed that employees who had stopped work because of the bushfire smoke pollution would not be back paid.
"It remains our view that the actions taken by employees to cease work were inconsistent with the provisions of our enterprise agreement that deal with resolution of disputes," he said. "Those employees participating in the stoppage were stood down off pay."
Members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) stopped work during the smoke haze in early December, stalling operations at the three main terminals at Port Botany.
The MUA said workers were now outraged at what it described as an extraordinary attack on their leave entitlements during a protracted industrial dispute over a new wages agreement.
MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said one employee was asked to cut short a holiday in America in recent days and other workers were angry to be called back to work in the middle of school holidays.
“To strip wharfies of their approved leave at this time of year, when many had arranged approved leave to care for their kids or take family holidays, is an extraordinary attack on their own workforce by DP World,” he said.
Last week, the union stepped up industrial action at ports in Sydney, Victoria, West Australia and Queensland in response to a stalemate in negotiations with the company over a new enterprise agreement. The union has been protesting against the company's refusal to rule out automation and outsourcing.
“Rather than backing down, workers will be responding to this latest attack with a fresh round of industrial action, including strikes, rolling stoppages during each shift, and the imposition of a range of work bans," Mr Smith said.
"DP World have called people saying they are short-staffed, but can go back on holidays if industrial action stops. We don't think it is legal to hold legal entitlements to leave over their head."
The stevedore giant last year announced it would make 250 of its 1800 employees redundant in Sydney and Melbourne as the company grapples with stalled union negotiations and growing commercial pressures.