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Massive salary for traffic controllers revealed

Written by on May 21, 2024

A union leader has justified the hefty salaries awarded to traffic controllers on major projects in Victoria, with some earning as much as $206,000 annually.

Industry whistleblowers report that some CFMEU-affiliated traffic controllers working on Victoria’s Big Build projects, which include all current road and rail infrastructure developments in the state, are receiving the six-figure salaries.

Victorian Secretary for The Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU), John Setka, defended the enormous salaries for traffic controllers on Victoria’s Big Build construction sites, stating smaller companies are “always going to whinge”.

“Some of these companies who are the whistleblowers, I mean the slaves that built the pyramids probably got a better deal than some of these workers at smaller companies … so I mean they’re always going to whinge,” he said.

The inflated wages have allegedly increased traffic management costs by $380 million, according to the whistleblowers.

“Our job is to protect our members and look after their interests and their welfare, and we don’t apologise for that,” Mr Setka said.

The six figure annual salary for traffic controllers has caused alarm with some Aussies as it is nearly three times the average salary of a registered nurse in Victoria who earns between $75,000 to $85,000 and the average salary of a Victoria Police constable who earns on average $75,000 annually.

In an interview with 3AW radio host Tom Elliott, Mr Setka said he finds it “insulting” the bad response traffic controllers receive from the public.

“Their job is so dangerous, there has been a number of them killed. They risk serious injury. They’re protecting the public and the construction workers,” he said.

The $206,00 a year salary for a traffic controller is based on a worker doing a six day, 50 hour work week.

Mr Setka said there is a common misconception within the general public when they drive past a stop sign holder, that the job “looks really easy” but said in actual fact, “everything looks really easy, until you go to actually do it”.

“We’ve got the highest suicide rates of any industry, because of long hours and fatigue, you don’t get to see your friends and family if you’re working continuous night shifts,” he said.

Mr Elliott said many callers had rang the popular radio station expressing their outrage at the difference in wages between a traffic controller and front line workers.

While the CFMEU boss agreed with comments that front line workers should get paid more for the work they do he still felt the wage made by sign holders was justified.

“Nurses and teachers are underpaid, paramedics are underpaid, I couldn’t agree more,” Mr Setka said.

“It’s not unusual for our construction workers to be working 12 hour shifts, some of our workers are working seven days a week,” he said.

Mr Setka also said while frontline workers should receive better pay, he said the nature of the construction industry meant that companies require workers to be available up to seven days each week in order to delivery their builds on time and avoid liquidation expenses.

“It’s a very competitive market, companies are up for liquidated damages if they don’t deliver the project ontime, it could be $200,000 a week in liquidated damages,” he said.

A man who worked in the underground tunnel and dredging projects in Brisbane wrote on social media he worked “12 hour shifts in a hostile construction” environment.

“It’s very dangerous gut busting work on projects, like your life is on the line along with your mates,” he said.

“These guys can do well on big jobs like this but then be unemployed for 6 months at a time between jobs,” another wrote.

“Not a problem for me. The hours, night work mostly, weekend work etc. Meanwhile we are able to get to work,” a third person wrote.

Liberal leader John Pesutto said there were “serious questions” that needed to be answered by the state government.

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“How is this happening?,” he said.

When questioned on the matter, Labor Minister Steve Dimopoulos said they did not set the wages for the workers.

“What we do is we engage builders to do the work on behalf of the government and the taxpayer,” he said.

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