POLICE were called to the construction site of the $300 million Bald Hills Wind Farm near Tarwin Lower last Friday morning after reports were received of an assault involving representatives of two opposing unions.
It’s not the only issue of concern for the developers of what will be one of the state’s biggest wind-energy facilities, Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsui & Co. (Australia) Ltd.
Local residents have also made complaints to the firm about the size and number of truck movements to the remote site, the inadequacy of the road network and especially the amount of dust being raised.
But those issues were set aside last week while the firms involved in the project went into damage control.
It is alleged that two members of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), who were also reportedly employees of Hazell Bros, the firm engaged to provide concrete services to the project, assaulted a member of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in the project offices located on Buffalo-Waratah Road at Walkerville last Friday.
It was reported to police that the two AWU members attended the site office at 10.08am last Friday morning and confronted the CFMEU member.
It has been variously alleged to police that they “tipped over a table the victim was sitting at” and “a scuffle broke out” and/or the men “jumped the desk and allegedly forced (the victim) from his chair and on to the ground”.
They allegedly took a book relating to union/employee matters from the man, although police said the book was later discarded.
Police said two female employees of the principal contractor, Senvion Australia (formerly RE Power Australia), witnessed the alleged assault and were allowed home for the rest of the day.
The two men allegedly involved in the assault were located and interviewed by police later in the afternoon and are expected to be summonsed to appear in court at a later date.
It is not known exactly what precipitated the incident but police noted in their report that the day before the incident occurred, a member of the CFMEU, working at the wind farm construction site on Buffalo-Waratah Road, was elected as the on-site Occupational Health and Safety representative.
Police officers from Foster are in charge of the investigation and they attended the scene at Walkerville last Friday morning with other police in support. A spokesperson for the police said he would be particularly concerned if it turned out to be a case of “union strong-arm tactics” as this sort of behaviour was not wanted in the local area.
Of course, it’s not the first time it has been seen locally.
In fact, the Nationals Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie, revealed in Senate estimates recently that allegations of illegal work practices by unions at the Victorian Desalination Plant in Wonthaggi would be reinvestigated further by the Fair Work Building and Construction Commission after evidence to the Commission had been reviewed following a change of government.
A worker at the Bald Hills site told the Sentinel-Times, unofficially last Friday, that work practices at the wind farm site in no way resembled those he had seen on the desalination plant project.
The two unions allegedly implicated, the principal contractor Senvion Australia and Hazell Bros have all been contacted in relation to the incident but, at the time of going to press, none of them had made comment. A comment by the spokesperson for Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd Matthew Croome, it included below.
Despite the incident, there was no let-up in activity at the various worksites around the massive project last Friday. A constant stream of concrete mixers was seen leaving the full-scale batching plant, that has been established by Hazell Bros on Walkerville Road, south of Tarwin Lower, and transferring their loads, mainly along Buffalo-Waratah Road to the wind farm site.
Despite attempts to kept the dust down on the unmade road, through the use of water spray, plumes of dust rise each time a truck passes, much to the annoyance of local residents.
Well-known opponent of the wind farm project, Don Fairbrother, who is also a resident of Buffalo-Waratah Road, said the dust and increased traffic was a problem for everyone.
“There were supposed to be 4000 truck movements in total but at this rate, there’ll be a lot more than that.
“There are eight houses along the road and they’ve simply got to show us some respect,” he said.
Mr Fairbrother said this amounted to keeping the dust down and also to truck drivers slowing down and moving to the side when local traffic approached.
“They’re supposed to reinstate the road after they’ve finished but the road simply can’t handle this volume of traffic.”
Having installed an elaborate internal road network and undertaken extensive excavations on the site, attention has now shifted to pouring the foundations for the 52 turbines; work that is progressing at a rapid pace. Upwards of 225 people will be working on-site at the peak of construction.