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AWU Civil Construction Industry Reference Group

May 4, 2020

A message from your AWU Civil Construction IRG Chair, Johnny Keys


Earlier this year, our IRG Chair Steve Ryan has stepped down. Steve was an inspirational leader for our group, and as our inaugural Chair he goes with our deepest respect and support. We wish Steve all the best in the future and I have no doubt we will continue to see him around the traps!

So a bit about me – your new chair, Johnny Keys.

I have worked in the civil infrastructure and construction industry for 14 years across Queensland, the Northern Territory and Victoria. I am currently working on the West Gate Bridge Tunnel in Melbourne and am passionate advocate for workplace safety and mental health.

I’ve been an active member with the AWU for 12 years and want to make well-paid, long-term careers the industry standard.

In my downtime, I support the Melbourne Storm and the Geelong Cats.


COVID-19 has proven challenging for every sector of the Australian economy and has tested us all.

But we have pulled together and looked after one another – like we always do.

Now it’s more critical than ever to stand together as proud AWU members to ensure that our safety is protected and that our civil construction industry gets the attention it deserves. You can read about important information relating to safety at work here – but if in doubt, speak to your AWU delegate or organiser.

I encourage you to speak to colleagues and friends at work who are not yet in the union. With a global pandemic underway, the government ramping up efforts to attack conditions, and supply chains affected the world over, there has never been a more important time to be a union member.

You can also stay up to date or share information via our special Facebook page for Civil Construction members.

Keeping Civil Construction Open For Business

The AWU has been working hard to keep the construction and manufacturing sector as a whole operating but it was a close call and involved lobbying at the state and federal level.

We made clear the sheer number of jobs involved in construction – civil and residential – and stressed just how crucial the sector is to the Australian economy. We made clear that any closure would devastate other industries in the supply chain.

The AWU teamed up with the Master Builders Association – an important and key industry player – and together we called for the industry to remain open and highlighted the fact that it could operate in a safe manner.


This was particularly important with the Victorian Government, which was very concerned about safety measures being contravened by some players in the industry very early on in this crisis. Fortunately calmer heads prevailed after we presented our case.

We have worked closely with all major employers to put in place health and safety regulations that will keep our members safe. Temperature checks when starting work, staggered starts and meal breaks and a sharp increase in cleaning are occurring on all sites.

It’s essential we maintain these standards because if we let things slip, this could be used to try and shutdown the industry or individual sites in the coming weeks and months.

When you compare our story to the rest of the Australian economy, we are relatively lucky in the construction industry – we’re still open for business and news from across the sites is largely positive.



Fighting For Your Future

We have passed the first hurdle and the signs are looking very positive for the civil construction sector with the Federal and State governments signalling major infrastructure spending in the coming weeks and months.

For residential it’s a different picture – house prices are falling and residential building approvals were already dropping before the crisis hit, so we expect a further dip. A lot of contractors like John Holland are already talking about revised earnings.

There’s also concern over the debt levels of companies that produce building materials, but the likely upcoming infrastructure spend should provide some measure of comfort for businesses supplying into the building and construction supply chain.

The AWU is at the very heart of government plans to enable the economy to bounce back. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that Australia cannot simply rely on supply chains from other parts of the world to deliver the things our country needs, when it needs them.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton has just been appointed to a new manufacturing taskforce with the responsibility of building a more resilient Australian manufacturing sector and economy overall. A strong manufacturing sector is clearly critical to the success and future of the construction industry. We will keep you updated and share any news that will impact your sites.

Site news

The big story across the board has been on safety measures – hand sanitisers, extra cleaning measures, staggered starts and meal breaks are the norm across the industry.

No great changes at Vic Fulton Hogan (Asphalt), with work steaming ahead. Main issue relates to safety as parts of the job do involve members working in relatively close proximity, meaning if one person falls ill with COVID-19, the whole crew will likely need to be stood down. Safety precautions include extra vehicles being made available to get people to and from site.

Across Downer DM Roads, three people have tested positive for COVID-19. They have been removed from site and are at home isolating and are doing well from all reports. The company like all others has a decontamination policy in place across all items people come in contact with; seats, dashboards, steering wheels etc. Only four people are allowed in a room at any one time to maintain social distancing.

The number of cleaners here at West Gate Bridge has been tripled, and workers are being constantly reminded about the 1.5 metre rule. We are confident measures are keeping members safe.

Soil contamination issues (PFAS) have caused major delays to the West Gate Tunnel Project. We are still waiting on a start date for the tunnel boring machines – Bella and Vida – but it’s hoped they will be launched in September. The knock-on effect on our members has been very significant, and after the Christmas break 140 AWU members were let go. Fortunately, we were able to help three quarters of our members find work on other sites around Australia.

We are still waiting on a solution to the PFAS issue but the very worst case scenario is a start date of early next year.

Once we get the go-ahead, West Side AWU members will begin work on constructing four extra lanes, entry and exit portals, interchange upgrades, ramps, more than 9km of new noise walls, new walking and and cycling paths and pedestrian bridges. East Side workers will help construct 15km of new elevated lanes, 1600 concrete segments, 1500 concrete piles and the extension and widening of the Wurundjeri Way. Early works are already proceeding with some foundation works underway.

Work started on the Mordialloc Bypass in October 2019. This 9km long project will ease congestion in Melbourne’s south-east. It comprises of seven bridges and new shared walking and cycling path and will run till late 2021. Around 200-300 workers are employed from Decmil/ Veterans Construction/ CCS Labour hire/ Corestaff LH/ connect LH and Goal. Manning will gradually be reduced from May with Decmil employees being guaranteed to last to be stood down.

All is proceeding as normal on Queensland’s major project, the Cross River Rail. We expect this project to deliver thousands of well paid jobs for AWU members.

At all the WestConnex and Metro Tunnel sites, production is going ahead as normal with extra safety checks introduced. Staggered starts and breaks are in place and everyone is temperature tested before starting work. All contractors are required to undertake a COVID-19 questionnaire before they can start work.

One issue has been how to accommodate fly-in fly-out workers, as around a fifth of the workforce is from Queensland or New Zealand. The hard border changes have complicated matters and we will continue to work with the company, members and governments to resolve the issue.

Stronger Together

Remember, the Civil Construction IRG is here to represent you and to fight for our industry.

Please let us know if there are issues you need raised or important matters that you would like to know more about. We will report on other sites and industry news as it comes to hand, so please make sure you are letting us know what’s going on.

You can stay up to date or share information via our special Facebook page for Civil Construction members.

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