Despite their dislike of the conservative state government, building unions in Victoria are getting fully behind a huge road project in Melbourne, saying their members need the work in a difficult construction climate throughout Victoria.

A report in The Age newspapers says key unions such as the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) have all backed the East-West Link project in Melbourne, the first stage of which involves linking the Eastern Freeway in Clifton Hill to CityLink in Flemington and the second of which would complete a link between the city’s eastern and western suburbs by extending the link to the Western Ring Road.

ETU State Secretary Tony Gray says that whilst building unions were yet to have a final debate on the overall merits of the project, he expects the development will employ at least 500 electricians and at least 200 or so indirect jobs for his union’s members and would therefore be difficult to oppose – especially in an environment where unemployment for his union in Victoria was at 25 year highs.

”With unemployment at record levels, we’re not in a position to be critical of a major project that will provide hundreds of jobs for our members” the report quotes Gray as saying.

Despite stressing he was reserving judgement about the project until he had seen Labour’s transport policy, menwhile, AWU state secretary Ben Davis says construction workers in Victoria were struggling and that his union would ‘of course’ support the project if contracts were signed before the next state election scheduled for November next year.

”I’ve never seen it as quiet as this” Davis says. “There have always been one or two big iconic public projects on the go, and lots of lots of smaller ones. That is just not happening now.”

”We just want to see infrastructure projects that create jobs in the hard-hit construction industry.”

The support of unions for the road project follows the Coalition’s win at the federal election, which has implications for the likelihood of joint funding for the project as the Coalition supports the development but the ALP instead favoured putting money toward a multi-billion dollar metro rail link.

The support of unions also comes despite trepidation over government efforts in Victoria and other eastern states to crack down on militant union behaviour on large-scale public infrastructure projects, primarily through use of codes of conduct which set out industrial relations practices that contractors bidding for work are required to adopt.

Around the state, as the housing sector drops back following a period of overbuilding (unlike other states such as New South Wales) the ABS estimates that a net total of 17,800 jobs have disappeared from the construction industry over the past two years.

Should the East-West Link project go ahead, the government expects the development to drive a total of around 3,200 jobs over a four to five year construction period.