As one of Australia’s biggest commercial construction projects nears completion, the Union reflects on the positive experiences of both workers and companies when all parties come to the table willing to collaborate.
Beginning construction in 2016, the project is estimated to cost over $2.2 billion AUD with 1500 workers on site. Electrical contractor – Star Group employs over 100 people on the site.
An initial attempt by Star and other companies to get a multi-enterprise agreement approved was voted down and, in some instances, quashed in the Federal court. Following this, Star management, the Union and its members negotiated a far superior enterprise agreement.
Union delegates were invited to the bargaining table, which established good communication and the development of a good relationship with Star Group. The final agreement contained excellent pay and conditions and there was no industrial action needed, which was a credit to both sides in being able to negotiate a good deal.
“This EBA was the smoothest process we’ve ever had,” said ETU delegate Rodney Woolsey.
The Star Electrical and ETU Sydney Construction Enterprise Agreement 2019 contains the following standout benefits:
- $52.10 per hour in 2022 for Gr5 Electrician
- Productivity allowance increased to $3.50 per hour over the life of the agreement
- fares and travel allowance increased to $42.08 per day over the life of the EBA
- $75 a week MERT redundancy (Mechanical and electrical redundancy trust fund)
- All overtime at double time
- Delegate’s rights are protected, including paid monthly meetings
- Covered by 24hr top up insurance of 90% (of $2K) including for injuries that happen outside of work.
- The re-introduction of site allowance and the inclusion of a $6.25 per hour infrastructure allowance.
- Increases to shift loadings
- Apprentice supervision policy and commitments to hire more women and mature age workers.
The EBA also contains a provision for a $3 weekly payment to Foundation House on behalf of each member. Foundation House is a crisis centre for people suffering from problems with alcohol, drugs or gambling. All employees and their immediate family members can access their services if needed, and the weekly contribution helps keep the service going for others.
These great benefits show a commitment on all sides to a happy and safe workforce.
“It’s all about balance and working out what’s best for everyone. We’re respectful of the Union’s position and we know that a good strong workforce that is happy and content goes a long way on a job site,” said Geoff Coleman, Executive Chairman of Star Group.
ETU NSW organiser Antony Stegic is happy that despite the pandemic, their hard work kept the site open with minimal disruption to workers. They’ve been able to overcome challenges faced in other sectors this year such as pay freezes.
“Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we still have the locked in pay rises over the life of the agreement, which is especially important during these times,” he said.
When the pandemic hit Australia, no one knew what to expect.
“I kept waiting for the call to pack up but it never came,” said ETU delegate Rodney Woolsey.
There was a lot of fear and uncertainty, but open communication on all sides and a commitment to keep the worksite open as long as possible was what made it work. Star Group, Lendlease and other companies on site listened to Unions and government advice and put new COVID-safe protocols in place.
“It’s amazing that we could keep it going,” said ETU member Sladen Cvijanovic.
“They reacted so quickly, everyone cooperated to make it work, and that’s a testament to the collaboration on this project,” he said.
Some of the protocols included:
- Staggered start times and break times
- Each lift limited to a designated group
- Extra cleaning each day
- Strict contact tracing
Their efforts worked, and there were just a handful of COVID-19 cases overall. The project continued, signalling to other smaller worksites that it was possible to continue with the right safety protocols in place. If the site had closed, the government would have followed suit and shut down the whole industry in NSW.
“The cooperation between the Union, the workers, companies and all the processes put in place kept things going,” said Geoff Coleman.
Safety incidents have also been minimal over the duration of the project.
“There were hardly any minor incidents, and no major incidents. Star has resolved issues quickly, from a site-based level to an operational level,” said Luke Allen, CFMEU delegate.
“Since the agreement was in place, the Union has been regularly communicating with its members and with us. Maintaining that relationship has been really important, and it has given us an open line of communication to resolve an issue quickly before it escalates,” said Chris Mulvey, Group Managing Director, Star Group.
This project is testament to the benefits that can be experienced by all when companies come to the bargaining table willing to negotiate in good faith and treat their workforce with respect.
The agreement will be up for renegotiation before it expires in October 2022.