West Gate Tunnel dispute win

The ETU Victoria welcomes the decision Fair Work Commission to refuse the approval of Enterprise Agreements that would cover workers on the Westgate Tunnel construction project. 

The West Gate Tunnel consortium lodged the agreements with Fair Work without the agreement or support of the unions under provisions introduced in the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014. This is the first time said provisions have been utilised to try and force an agreement through without union consent since the bill became law in late 2015.

ETU Victoria Secretary, Troy Gray, calls on the Federal Government to repeal the legislation which was the brainchild of former Employment Ministers Eric Abetz and Michaelia Cash.

“This was just another example of this anti-worker Government’s attempting to strip the rights away from working people,” said Gray. “It was a gift to the big end of town. These are broken rules we need to change”

The consortium sought the Commission’s approval of two greenfields agreements, despite the fact the project has already engaged approximately 2000 workers on the tunnel’s construction. Greenfields agreements are restricted to new enterprises without an existing workforce. The consortium has attempted to use subcontracting through labour hire firms to claim they had no employees. This would make them eligible to lodge such agreements and preserve their ability to avoid negotiations with the workers. The Fair Work Commission rejected their arguments.

Had the agreements been approved it would have left the large workforce with no rights with regards to their workplace conditions, despite the likelihood of the project going on for three to five years.

“This consortium has denied these workers their fundamental right to fairly bargain for pay and conditions,” said Troy Gray.

The West Gate Tunnel saga has been ongoing for over a year with now two unsuccessful attempts by the consortium to approve non-union agreements. The saga has vindicated concerns that the bill was open for exploitation by big business. Such concerns were raised by members of the Labor Party, including Senator Doug Cameron, when the bill was debated in parliament. 

“When this bill was introduced, Doug Cameron warned us that big business would simply sit back and let the clock run down,” said Mr. Gray, referencing the 6 month negotiation period provided by the amendment. “That is exactly what we have seen happen. These companies had no interest in negotiating with these workers or their representatives in good faith.”

Troy Gray has also called for consortium members John Holland and CPB Contractors to be rejected from all future tender lists for major projects in Victoria. 

“We can’t allow these foreign owned businesses to roll into town and roll all over Victorian workers’ rights,” said Gray. “We now have 2000 workers without an enterprise agreement. It’s an industrial relations disaster that has put the future of Victoria’s second largest infrastructure project in jeopardy and if I was a CPB shareholder I’d be asking whether they have a plan B.”