Private contractors building the Sydney Metro Northwest have been accused of trying to slash the pay and conditions of skilled tradespeople using a controversial pay agreement like the one Carlton United Breweries used to slash worker salaries.
A union investigation has found three electricians employed on the $8.3 billion NSW government-funded project were offered a minimum base wage with UGL plus a $3360 monthly “bonus” from a second business. The workers said they were then asked to vote on a workplace agreement that would cover hundreds of electricians in three states.
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The new standalone railway will deliver 31 metro stations and more than 66 kilometres of new metro rail. It will run from Sydney’s North West region under Sydney Harbour, through the CBD and beyond to the south west.
The Electrical Trades Union said the company had tried to use the same legal loophole that led to the Carlton and United Breweries dispute last year, in which a handful of workers were forced to rubber-stamp a workplace agreement used to slash the wages of hundreds of other employees.
Electrical Trades Union secretary Dave McKinley said UGL through a wholly-owned subsidiary had used a similar tactic to try to pay lower wages to hundreds of electricians working on the construction of the Sydney Metro Northwest.
Peter Caldwell, an electrician who formerly worked for UGL. Photo: Christopher Pearce
“UGL has been attempting to use the same loophole at the centre of the Carlton United Breweries dispute – with a tiny number of workers voting up an agreement that is then forced on a large number of other workers, slashing pay and conditions in the process,” Mr McKinley said.
“This appalling attempt to use a loophole in the workplace relations system to slash the wages of skilled workers would be outrageous if it occurred anywhere, but it is so much more shocking that it is taking place on the largest government funded infrastructure project in NSW.
“Our investigation revealed a bizarre arrangement where a handful of workers were employed through one company, paid a monthly bonus by another company, asked to vote on a workplace agreement that would subsequently cover hundreds of other workers across three states, then stripped of their bonuses when they asked for assistance from the union.”
The ETU said the three workers asked for the union’s help to negotiate the wages agreement with UGL subsidiary MTCT Services which then cancelled the monthly bonus it had offered them. The ETU provided a copy of the written offer of a $3360 monthly bonus on Kirk Industrial letterhead.
One of the three electricians, Peter Caldwell, said he left the job after the pay rate on offer was halved from about $46 to $23 per hour.
He said he had worked for double that money more than 10 years ago on projects including the Lane Cove Tunnel and the Eastern Distributor.
Mr Caldwell said he was asked to sign an enterprise agreement he described as “very dodgy”.
“It was through a company called Kirk Industrial who told us that if we could get the enterprise agreement through as quickly as possible, we would be rewarded,” Mr Caldwell said.
“When we got the contract it said $23 per hour from UGL and Kirk Industry phoned me and said I would get $46 if I jumped on board so they could get the EBA through.
“When we had to sign the EBA, I contacted the ETU and UGL spat the dummy and said they would only give us $23 per hour.”
The ETU said other workers were moved to different sites where they were required to do menial work, with their overtime cancelled.
After failing to get the wage agreement voted up, Mr McKinley said UGL used labour hire companies Ranstad, Workpac, Protech, and Concept Engineering to hire electricians.
UGL is a wholly-owned subsidiary of CIMIC Group and part of the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium.
A spokeswoman for CIMIC Group declined to comment.
A spokesman for Transport for NSW said it had entered into a contract with Northwest Rapid Transit which includes UGL for the delivery and operation of the Sydney Metro Northwest.
He said NRT and all its subcontractors “must comply with all applicable laws” but provided no response to the issued the ETU raised.
“NRT is required to submit legal confirmation monthly that it has carried out its activities as per the contract and met all applicable laws prior to payments being made by Transport for NSW,” the spokesman said.
Northwest Rapid Transit provided a statement through Transport for NSW which only said: “As per contractual obligations, all Northwest Rapid Transit contractors are required to comply with the NSW Code of Practice for Procurement and NSW Code of Practice for Procurement: Building and Construction.”
Transport Minister Andrew Constance declined to comment.