Union boss defends six-figure salaries for stop sign holders

Jarrod Brown
By Jarrod Brown
4 Min Read

A union boss says the “dangerous” job deserves the monster six-figure pay packet that has some entry-level tradies earning over $200k on major state projects.

The eye-watering salaries are thanks to a recent pay deal struck by the increasingly powerful Construction, Forestry, and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU) for stop-and-go sign holders on Victoria’s 90 billion dollar ‘Big Build’ initiative.

But branch secretary John Setka says he’s sick of the tradies being branded as stick-twirling bludgers and claims the exorbitant pay reflects their importance on the job site. 

“I find it insulting that traffic controllers get such a bad rap,” he told radio station 3AW earlier this week.

“I mean, their job is so dangerous. There has been a number of them killed. They risk of serious injury. They’re protecting the public. They’re protecting the construction workers.

“I mean, when it’s raining torrential rain, and there’s a concrete pour on they can’t just say, ‘Well, I’m gonna get up and I’m not standing there’. They’ve got to stay there right till the end.”

Under the pay deal, these workers receive a base rate of $49 per hour, which doubles to $98 an hour for 16 hours of double time. They also pocket $315 for a travel allowance, $186 for a meal allowance on overtime, and $280 for a site allowance on mega projects.

If we do the math, that’s a very impressive $4,309 per week or $206,832 per year.

When asked why the figure far outstrips other in-demand professions like nurses, police officers, teachers and paramedics (all of which command starting salaries under $80k), Mr Setka claimed they were being underpaid. 

“Nurses and teachers should earn more but we don’t represent them, we represent construction workers,” he added.

However, Setka did admit the sizable salary was only hit by workers taking on several hours of overtime a week or manning back-to-back night shifts, both of which afford attractive penalty rates.

While the paycheck might sound appealing to a lot of Aussies, Setka said the long six-day workweek isn’t for everyone.

“Let me tell you, after a couple of weeks working night shift, you don’t see anybody. It’s almost like you’ve got no friends or family,” he said.

Union faces strong-arming allegations

While the debate rages on over whether the pay bump is well-deserved, ‘whistleblowers’ have emerged claiming the union has used its growing industry influence to strong-arm its way into state contracts and purposely driven up construction costs to fatten workers’ wallets.

Mr Setka dismissed the allegations, claiming they came from smaller companies working under raw deals of their own. 

“There’s been allegations like that since Jesus wore shorts and nothing has ever been proven,” Mr Setka told listeners.

“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.

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

According to whistleblowers who talked to the Herald Sun, the inflated wages would drive up traffic management costs by $360 million. 

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.