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Sydney ferry master fired for falling asleep on the job

A Sydney ferry captain fell asleep on the job and he's lost his unfair dismissal claim. (Images: Getty)

A Sydney ferry master has lost his unfair dismissal case after his employer fired him for falling asleep during a passenger service.

The Fair Work Commission heard that Nigel Sclater was sacked in April after an incident as the master of the May Gibbs, which was previously named by the NSW government as Ferry McFerryface.

Sclater told the Commission that he had caught a cold in late March that left him with "a persistent cough" for which he took medication.

While he sent a picture of the Dry Tickly cough medicine to his line manager, Sclater missed a warning on the box that said "This medication may cause drowsiness. If affected do not drive a vehicle or operate machinery".

On the morning of April 11, Sclater drove the May Gibbs to Pyrmont Bay, where he started feeling tired. He sat down on the settee in the wheelhouse.

"Mr Sclater states that he closed his eyes and must have drifted off but believed that he was only 'absolutely unconscious' for about five minutes. He did not make a conscious decision to try and have a nap. His falling asleep was an involuntary experience," the Commission heard.

He woke when his line manager boarded the ship and entered the wheelhouse. The engineer was driving the ferry by that time.

The Commission's deputy president Geoffrey Bull rejected Sclater's unfair dismissal claim, citing a lack of evidence that the incident was caused by a medical episode.

"It is simply untenable for a master of one of its ferries to be asleep for any period while on duty. The ramifications of a safety incident occurring during such a period are considerable," he said.

"I find that [Sclater] allowed himself to fall asleep having sat down on the settee in the wheelhouse, while the engineer was in control of the vessel. On this basis, a valid reason for his dismissal is established."

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