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Tools down on Cross River Rail after official sparks virus fears

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Unions are worried for the safety of 50 workers on the massive Cross River Rail project after an Australian Building and Construction Commission official flew in from Melbourne to talk.

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Workers on the Roma Street site, recently promoted by the Palaszczuk Government as an example of its state-building infrastructure, were said to have been “in the sheds” this morning. While there have previously been tensions in industrial relations on the project, this go-slow was in part prompted by concerns over the potential spread of COVID-19.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young, allowed construction projects to continue when other workplaces were required to shut down and, most recently, has advised the government on the border restrictions that have largely banned entry by anyone from Victoria.

However, the CFMEU was alarmed that ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney had arrived in Brisbane from Melbourne – at the centre of Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak – to conduct interviews in relation to a rally at the site eight months ago.

“This is as outrageous as it is grossly irresponsible,” said state CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham.

“The arrogance and stupidity of the ABCC has potentially put hundreds of workers and their families at risk for no good reason, and in doing so risked work ceasing on one of the largest construction projects in Australia.”

An ABCC spokesman said McBurney, a former AFL umpire, was allowed to cross the border to undertake his statutory duties.

“He has obtained an exemption from the Chief Health Officer for Queensland and is strictly complying with directions issued by the Chief Health Officer, including obtaining a negative COVID-19 test result,” the spokesman said.

“Mr McBurney has not attended any building and construction site while in Queensland and does not intend to do so.”

Work has continued on site and it is unclear what impact, if any, the union concerns will have. It is also not the first time the CFMEU has clashed with the ABCC.

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