West Gate Tunnel stand-off to blow out costs and delays: opposition
Summary: The stand-off between Victoria’s powerful construction unions and the consortium building the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel could cause a massive cost blowout, the state opposition warns.....
Even without an industrial war, one union figure has warned the tunnel's construction cost could rise to $10 billion because of its immense size.
And an increase in wages for workers on the toll road risks escalating the cost of two other big rail and road tunnelling projects planned in Melbourne.
On Monday, The Age revealed Victoria’s five construction unions are accusing the consortium building the tunnel of trying to slash work conditions and pay. Crucially, unions want to control when rostered days off are taken.
On big projects, construction workers often work six-day weeks totalling around 56 hours. Regular rostered days off are regarded as important to combat fatigue and ensure safety.
Work on the West Gate Tunnel will be dusty and gruelling, and see builders underground for long periods at night, with construction going 24 hours a day.
There is no workplace agreement covering the project, despite the Andrews government appointing the Chinese-owned John Holland and the Spanish-controlled CPB Contractors last year.
It is due to start construction early next year.
But the politically influential unions and the builders are warning they are unlikely to reach an agreement unless the other side backs down – creating a potential headache for Labor at November’s state election.
The Victorian opposition says if it wins November's election, it will likely side with the consortium and push back on the union's "excessive demands".
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.
“This looks like the desalination plant all over again,” he said.
The Wonthaggi desalination plant saw taxpayers hit with a $1 billion-plus compensation claim by builders and operators.
Mr Clark said the government must not sit on its hands while unions maximised "their take out of a public project”.
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 in November, he said.
The West Gate Tunnel industrial battle centres on pay and working conditions.
Industry sources say the consortium is offering annual pay well in excess of $150,000 for workers on day and night shifts.
The West Gate Tunnel deal sought by unions might also increase the wages bill for another big tunnelling project, the $15.8 billion North East Link toll road.
On Monday, The Age asked Industry and Employment Minister Ben Carroll if unions were being greedy asking for higher wages for West Gate Tunnel workers.
With a price tag of $5.5 billion and a promise to reduce congestion, the West Gate Tunnel project is an ambitious one. But does it stack up?
The consortium wants to negotiate only with the Australian Workers Union, and not the other, more militant unions involved – the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the metal and plumbers unions.
On Monday, the consortium again declined requests to explain details of the enterprise agreement put to unions.