Building giant John Holland created a "culture of fear" at Perth's new children's hospital site that can be blamed for the scandals that have plagued the long-delayed $1.2 billion project, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.
The company used subcontractors that underpaid workers who were too scared to speak out about unsafe working conditions, the inquiry into problems around the hospital’s construction heard on Wednesday.
Workers infamously discovered asbestos in roof panels imported from China last year.
“They were exposed to unacceptable OHS issues and again because of the way John Holland ran the site, workers were constantly under pressure in respect to their insecure employment,” Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union organiser Doug Heath said.
The hospital’s opening has been delayed 18 months and is not expected to take patients until next year.
Unsafe levels of lead in drinking water and the failure to fix the problem is the reason for the delay.
The major project has been beset by problems, with the lead levels blamed on the use of cheaper brass instead of stainless steel fittings on mixing valve assembly boxes although the source has not been conclusively solved.
Mr Heath accused head contractor John Holland, appointed by the previous Barnett government, of cutting costs by using subcontractors that paid below award wages, did not have experience on major projects and used labour hire firms to employ cheap labour such as inexperienced backpackers and foreign workers.
“There is an obligation on government projects to have a higher level of rigour applied, we are talking about taxpayer money being spent on these jobs,” he said.
Chief health officer Tarun Weeramanthri said there had been a “striking failure” in documents reporting water quality during John Holland’s construction of the hospital.
“Systems failures occur because proper processes aren’t in place and people aren’t properly trained … I don’t think the documentation was good enough. I don’t think the assurance process was rigorous enough,” he said.
Dr Weeramanthri played down concerns raised last week by the head of the state’s chemical testing centre that the high lead levels in water at the hospital meant there was a risk of it also occurring at WA schools.
He said he wanted to speak to ChemCentre chief Peter McCafferty about it but was confident in the stringent high standards and regulations around WA’s water supply.