'Desperate' tradesmen blockade Werribee site
Out of work tradies picket Melbourne Water's Western Treatment Plant site in Werribee. Photo: Penny Stephens
A group of about 20 out-of-work tradesmen are protesting against the use of migrant labour at a $40 million, state government-owned construction site in Melbourne's west.
The protesters have blocked a road to the Werribee sewage treatment farm with the aim of stopping a bus load of foreign workers.
City West Water – one of three government-owned water companies in Melbourne – is building a salt reduction plant at Werribee to allow recycled water from sewage to be used for gardening purposes in Melbourne's sprawling western suburbs.
Nick Donohue, spokesman for the protesters, called the Western Alliance Group, said he believed the plant's contractor Briagolong Engineering is employing people on the 457 visa, which allows skilled overseas workers to work in Australia temporarily.
He questioned the need to bring in foreign labour, when he said their were plenty of Australian workers in Melbourne's west willing to work.
"We just want opportunities for local workers, to at least have a chance to seek employment," Mr Donohue, a boilermaker, said.
He said many of his workmates were struggling to find work as construction slows to a standstill throughout the state.
Fairfax Media revealed on Tuesday that Victoria had lost 12,000 construction jobs, with thousands more at risk as big infrastructure jobs such as the Wonthaggi desalination plant finish.
The state's large building companies - including Thiess and John Holland - have already laid off more than 5000 employees as work on projects such as the M80 Ring Road upgrade draws to a close.
The companies expect to shed thousands more jobs in the next few months, with the Regional Rail Link the only major infrastructure project continuing this year.
Mr Donohue said he has had no work since Christmas and had only worked a couple of months last year. He said the protest was out of desperation.
"My back's against the wall. We were hoping that at least some of us could get a start here. We don't know what's next. There's nothing coming up. There's no constructions."
He said the alliance had tried to enter into negotiations with Briagolong Engineering "but it just looks like they are not interested".
A police spokeswoman said officers were monitoring the protest in case it spirals out of control. Mr Donohue said an officer threatened to charge him on Wednesday morning.
"They asked if I had a criminal record, I said no, they said 'well, you will after today'. I found that really intimidating. We are just here for our jobs."
The police spokeswoman said Mr Donohue was welcome to make a complaint to the force.
A City West Water spokesman declined to comment on the protest, saying the water company did not dictate to its contractors who they should employ.
He said he expected the project, the total of value of which is $100 million with the plant costing $40 million, is to be completed early next year.
Briagolong Engineering, which is based in Gippsland, also declined to comment, saying "it's something we do not want to be involved in."