We’re just three months out until production for Victoria’s biggest transport project begins. And already it is marred by potential cost blowouts and delays.
It’s a stand-off between five of Victoria’s most powerful construction unions and the companies building the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel.
With both sides warning there won’t be a breakthrough unless the other side caves — the approaching industrial struggle could cause trouble for Labor at November’s state election.
After more than six months of negations, and no workplace agreement in place to build the project, talks are now nearing a stalemate.
In 2015, the Turnbull government changed workplace laws to give employers more power when negotiating agreements for new projects. This came after a controversy over pay delays on big projects, including Victoria’s desalination project.
And now unions are saying that the companies have continually offered draft proposals that are considerably below industry standards for pay and working conditions. Despite the fact that pay rates in Melbourne’s construction industry are far higher than in other Australian cities.
The companies have said that they offered generous pay rates for employees, working a mix of day and night shifts, that would be well in excess of $150,000 a year.
West Gate Tunnel hold up is increasing the project’s cost
The West Gate Tunnel consortium said it is only ready to bargain with the Australian Workers Union, giving them until November to sign a deal.
The other construction unions, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining & Energy Union and the Electrical Trades Union are also insisting they be part of negotiations.
Bear in mind this project is designed to give western suburb motorists an alternative route into the city and will connect to the West Gate Freeway — freeing up traffic and cutting congestion rates even further.
The deadlock also places Labor in a somewhat of a hard place. They’re already attached to labour unions, but the opposition has a backlog of projects waiting to be built, and the cost of these jobs will be affected by the result of these current negotiations.
Victorian Opposition Industrial Relations Spokesman Robert Clark said the battle between the unions and the contractor could both increase the project’s cost and badly delay it. Likening it to the Wonthaggi desalination plant that saw taxpayers slammed with a $1 billion-plus compensation claim by builders and operators.
Mr Clarke said the coalition would seek a ‘reasonable outcome that does not hold Victorians to ransom or send future infrastructure costs through the roof’ if it won come November.
By Leah Wallace
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