Is the tunnel a race to the bottom?
We have all seen how ‘too cheap’ tenders can impact on major civil projects. Just look at the new Perth children’s hospital. The Forrestfield airport tunnel link was budgeted at 1.96 billion dollars yet the tender was awarded to Salini-Impregilo an Italian conglomerate, by the Barnett Government for just 1.3 billion, a massive reduction based on the initial budget.
What’s worse, it appears workers on the project are paying the price due to the site agreement that was voted up by only 3 workers and then applied to hundreds of workers right across the entire project. The workers are being paid less than half the rate which applied to a similar project in NSW last year.
This is where the rules applied by the Fair Work Commission are broken and need to be changed. There was no ‘Good Faith’ bargaining in consultation with key stakeholders including the company, unions and all workers to arrive at a truly fair Enterprise Agreement. How can 3 workers decide what is right and fair for an entire workforce of several hundred?
Workers are complaining that their fortnightly pay is being paid late, some suppliers are also waiting for overdue payments to be paid. Morale is low and there has already been a high turnover of labour on the project- all sure-fire warning signs that things aren’t right.
All of this has a familiar smell about it where tenders have been awarded to the lowest bidder (bids which sound too good to be true) creating a race to the bottom and it’s the workers and the WA Taxpayer who end up footing the bill.
Now, more than ever, there is an imbalance of power between employees and employers that must be addressed.
Foreign workers on the project are also being denied fair rights and conditions by not being allowed to go home to visit their families on a frequent basis, this isolates them and opens them up to further exploitation.
CFMEU WA State Secretary Mick Buchan says: “It wasn’t that long ago the CFMEU came out and said ‘we told you so’ over the children’s hospital disaster. In light of how the Barnett Government awarded major project tenders with dire consequences, we believe the McGowan Government needs to keep a close eye on the development of this project. Questions need to be asked now to avoid another major civil project debacle and workers should be allowed to have access to union representation to protect their rights and to be involved in a fair collective bargaining process.