Australia Report

Published 27/12, 2018 at 11:00

The Australian construction industry in most capital cities is experiencing a major boom in infrastructure projects. Melbourne and Sydney especially are undergoing several underground rail and tunnel projects which will run for the next 5-6 years.

What we are seeing is unprecedented in terms of monetary funding from government and the private sectors. Supply and demand for service industries is the driving force behind several articles questioning the high salaries paid to construction workers. 

Figures suggest that between $180,000.00 and $200,000.00 is attainable for a basic traffic control operator who works on a 6-day 12-hour shift roster. Worker unions are defending this claim arguing it is justified for long hours worked and hazardous conditions. The tax payer is asking how can such high salaries be justified when our emergency services, doctors, and teachers are on so much less?

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit the bottom line is investment in infrastructure is always a good choice and helps support the economy and long-term investment. Securing work on these projects is another story altogether and centres around the definition of compliance.

In general, compliance means conforming to a rule, such as a specification, policy, standard or law. Regulatory compliance describes the goal that organizations aspire to achieve in their efforts to ensure that they are aware of and take steps to comply with relevant laws, policies, and regulations. 

What this actually means on site has a direct impact on productivity and unrealistic time frames. In most conversations regarding productivity all agree that within the defined 12-hour shift between 7 and 8 hours is the most you can expect from your work force. This is good for the worker and not so good for the employer who has bid for the contract.

A recent project in Darwin, Northern Territory reaffirms this point. The original project cost was estimated at 23 Billion dollars and by the time the project was completed was closer to 50 Billion- more than double the original estimate. In spite of this cost blow out it also resulted in several companies gonging in liquidation because of productivity issues as well as contract disputes centring around compliance issues.

Reward for effort can be a contradiction in terms when we look at the costs invested in our staff. Employing competent operators and having the ability to progress through training and industry courses is becoming harder to justify, not because of the financial cost, but because there is limited interest or support from the end user.

What we are now seeing on major infrastructure projects is the requirement to provide evidence that employees are competent and skilled in their defined role. In Australia we have a High-Risk work license that is issued by each states Work Safe authority. This license provides evidence the employee can use and operate the plant identified on the license.

High risk licenses are evidence that an employee has completed training and is competent to carry out their duties safely and effectively. Ironically in Australia we also have another compliance tool called verification of competency (VOC). 

Compliance on the Melbourne rail projects requires all employees to undergo a VOC of each qualification they hold on their high-risk license. The federal government’s own web site clearly states that a VOC is not required if a worker has a valid high-risk license. The contradiction is an expensive investment for the employer.

VOC assessments cost on average $650 per qualification. Some employees can have up to 6 different qualifications listed on their high-risk license so you can see where this is going. 

Ironically there is no high-risk license for concrete sawing and drilling operators just a qualification issued by the CSDAA once an operator has completed their recognition of prior learning (RPL) assessment. 

Hopefully in the coming months as more and more sawing and drilling operators attend these sites common sense will prevail and someone will ask the question how come the sawing and drilling industry isn’t recognised as high risk.

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