A new union pay deal in Victoria that would see labourers and junior stop-sign holders working 36-hour weeks earning $120,000 a year has prompted backlash — as well as a heated defence of tradies.

The Herald Sun reported on the weekend that the hard-line Construction, Forestry, Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU) was close to inking a new workplace agreement with the state government that will see its workers given “at least” a 5 per cent pay rise.

Under the three-year agreement, basic labourers and traffic controllers would earn more than $2000 per week plus another $260 a week in travel allowance — equating to 23 per cent more than the average full-time weekly income of $1838.

Those working overtime or more than five days per week would earn much more than the $120,000 a year figure, which is for a basic 36-hour week.

CFMEU boss John Setka told the newspaper that workers were entitled to healthy pay increases during a cost-of-living crisis. “It could be more than 5 per cent,” he said.

“Everyone is allowed to increase the cost of everything but we are not allowed to increase wages — fair dinkum? We want a pay rise to keep up with the cost of living and we are not allowed? We are not going to be the sacrificial lambs.”

The union had made excessive ambit demands of as high as 12 per cent during initial talks with major firm and industry representatives, according to the report, which sparked heated debate online.

“Let me see. Get a tertiary education and become a teacher or a paramedic. Or hold up a pole all day and get paid 50 per cent more. Only in Victoria,” one reader wrote.

“Visit any of the train crossing removal sites around town and you’ll see dozens of people doing nothing but standing around and looking at their phones, and just a handful doing anything that could be described as work. It’s an absolute joke,” another said.

A third said, “Anyone wonder how Dan Andrews and Jacinta Allan wrecked the state’s economy, infrastructure. Who other than the union thinks it’s realistic for a labourer to earn $120,000 in the same state where a trained doctor earns $83,000 first year post grad and doesn’t get to $120,000 until five years post grad.”

‘You don’t raise a sweat’

But many came to the defence of workers.

“It’s called traffic control and it is dangerous, hard work,” one X user wrote.

“We respect trades in this country do not try to be America about this. Also a field that’s becoming more and more female dominated I’m sure that plays no part in the righteous indignation of men who earn $200,000 a year to say things on radio.”

Another said, “I dare anyone talking s**t about this job to do it for a single summer day.”

Influential pollster and former Labor strategist Kos Samaras weighed in with a scathing attack on university-educated desk workers.

“Just a friendly reminder that workers who build things with their hands are actually more important than most who work behind a desk,” he wrote.

“The latter’s social value is extremely subjective. The former group’s work is easy to measure. Objective. Without them, those working behind the desk will starve, freeze, and not be able to function. No homes, no desks, no office, no plastic, no food, no phones, nothing. Your university degree does not place you above these workers. It only ensures you don’t raise a sweat to produce value for society.”

Mr Samaras told news.com.au that “for a very long time some politicians and political activists have complained about what construction workers get paid”.

“In Victoria these same voices have also complained about the projects they work on,” he said. “One could argue that this odd political strategy has contributed to the politics in this state being so lopsided.”

While traffic controllers earn good money in Australia, some have previously warned that the job is very “inconsistent”.

Melbourne woman Maria Kefalas, who was earning around $2000 a week, said recently that the idea you’re going to be “rich” gives “false hope”.

“What people don’t tell you is you can work that whole week from Monday to Friday and get that much money but then you could … have a whole month with no work,” she said in video on social media in 2021.

Gold Coast traffic controller Paris Taylor said she took home $3,500 in a seven-day week.

Last year, one Irish backpacker blasted the job as a “scam”.

TikToker Kerry said she wouldn’t recommend the job, saying while she was paid $45 an hour in Sydney, shifts were hard to come by and she spent $600 of her own cash on training and uniforms.

“It’s the biggest scam in Australia for backpackers,” she warned in the video.

“People are coming to Australia and spending hundreds on traffic control courses thinking they’re going to get loads of hours and it’s going to be a full-time, stable job. If that’s the case, just go work in bar work or hospitality because it’s so much easier.”

She said she worked for two traffic control companies and completed a range of courses “in the middle of f**king nowhere”, and bought her own uniform.

Then, after dropping several hundred dollars on the gig, Kerry said she was put on a casual roster and some weeks didn’t get any shifts at all.

“I’m like, ‘Sorry, sir, I actually have to pay rent here, can I have some hours?’” she said.

“My boss used to text me at like 11pm at night and say, ‘Oh, you’re in at 6am.’ Like can you at least give me 24 hours notice?”

The Irish woman said once she secured a shift, the work could be hours away and her company did not supply her a car.

“Don’t be rushing over here to be a traffic control worker, it’s nothing like it’s made out to be and it’s f**king boring!” she said.

$74 million ‘discrepancy’

The reported CFMEU pay deal comes as the Liberal Party calls for a parliamentary inquiry into state-funded infrastructure, amid allegations the CFMEU contributes to high construction industry costs.

The opposition said on Sunday that payment schedules for two taxpayer-funded road projects it obtained under freedom-of-information show the Craigieburn Road upgrade, where the CFMEU is the main union, cost $190 million, compared with $116 million on the Sunbury Road project, where the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) was on site.

The Liberal Party said the two projects are similar in scope but the CFMEU-run project had cost Victorians $74 million more in the same 16-month period.

“As Labor plays hardball with pay negotiations with police, ambulance workers, firefighters, teachers and nurses, they fold to the demands of their union mates like the CFMEU,” Shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations David Hodgett said in a statement.

“Labor’s reliance on the hard line CFMEU has cost taxpayers an extra $74 million at a time they can least afford it and Jacinta Allan must explain this discrepancy. Labor’s Big Build is the ‘Big Bill’ as the Premier writes cheques to the CFMEU with taxpayers’ money and Victorians pay the price.”

Evan Mulholland, Shadow Minister for Outer Suburban Growth, said people living across Melbourne were “already doing it tough without having to pay for Labor’s union deals”.

“The cost of this project doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, which is why we are calling for an Infrastructure Standing Committee to hold Labor to account for its mismanaged infrastructure pipeline,” he said.

“With over $38 billion in cost blowouts on major projects, Premier Jacinta Allan needs to explain exactly why the CFMEU project has cost Victorians $74 million more than a similar project in Melbourne’s north.”

But Dipal Sorathia, program director at Major Roads Project Victoria, told the Herald Sun the two examples cited were “vastly different working environments with different complexities”.

Ms Allan’s office has been contacted for comment.


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