Wages dispute puts stadium project in jeopardy
RELATIONS between the managing contractor of the North Queensland Stadium, unions and the State Government have taken a dive as frustrations flare and construction workers walk off the job.
According to contractor Watpac, about 60 workers chose to leave the Townsville site yesterday after being addressed by the Construction Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union about 10.30am, while about 120 workers remained.
The action came as Watpac hit back at the Queensland Government and the union, which last week claimed the contractor was not delivering agreed wage and condition improvements to local workers.
Housing and Public Works Minister Mick de Brenni said Watpac was obliged to implement new Best Practice Industrial Relations Principles introduced to the Government's Buy Queensland procurement policy in May.
"I've spoken to workers and subcontractors who tell me they haven't received best practice pay and conditions as yet, even though Watpac have been aware of this requirement for over six months," Mr de Brenni said.
"The Palaszczuk Government's firm view is that workers in Townsville should receive the same pay and conditions as workers in southeast Queensland.
"Watpac should've adopted this position from day one, so it's unfortunate it's taken so long for this to filter through."
Watpac managing director Martin Monro said he was "surprised and disappointed" by Mr de Brenni's comments.
"We have been working with the Queensland Government to introduce their Best Practice Principles and were given final instruction to implement these last Tuesday," he said.
"We're yet to be given any examples of where we are not implementing these principles correctly.
"It was only last Thursday where we gave a joint briefing with Government to subcontractors, which didn't highlight any disparity between our interpretation and the Government's instructions. I find it particularly concerning that the Minister is claiming we aren't doing the right thing."
The union's regional co-ordinator Kane Lowth said workers did not withdraw lightly and the action showed the "level of frustration" on the site.
"This process (to implement new pay and conditions) is taking so long, if it's simple as what the Government is saying … why is it taking so long?" Mr Lowth asked.
"If Watpac can't find the time to sort out while the job is being built, they might be able to sort something out if they didn't have the build on their plate.
"We don't believe Watpac can be trusted and we need independent oversight."
Last week the union's state secretary Michael Ravbar said the patience and goodwill of workers and subcontractors on the project had been "exhausted".
Mr Monro said the walk-off was "unlawful" and "unnecessary" as Watpac was well under way with the agreed process to implement the increased wages.
"Of the 18 subcontractors of which the Best Practice Principles are currently applicable, we have engaged with eight and will continue to meet with the others as soon as practicably possible," he said.
"We are not an anti-union employer and this has been proven time and time again through our actions, but we are not going to disobey federal law, nor the explicit instructions issued to us lawfully under the contract, just to satisfy the broader agenda of the Queensland branch of the CFMEU."
When asked if he was concerned industrial action would delay the stadium's completion, Mr de Brenni said it was Watpac's responsibility to ensure it was delivered by the start of the 2020 NRL season.
"Watpac should choose subcontractors that meet our Government's standards on pay and conditions, and have stable industrial relations in place to prevent any disputes that could lead to interruptions on the job," he said.