The Snowy Hydro 2.0 project, one of the most significant renewable energy projects in Australia, is facing ongoing scrutiny over its mounting price tag and endlessly extending deadlines.
The scheme, first slated as a $2 billion project to expand the existing Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme by adding an additional 2,000 MW of energy storage capacity, is now estimated to need up to $20 billion from taxpayers to be completed this decade.
Stresses over the project have now reportedly spilt over and are affecting workers on the ground, with the Australian Workers’ Union sharing pictures of maggot-infested food being served up.
According to AWU NSW Secretary Tony Callinan, workers at the Snowy Hydro 2.0 project are being fed worse than “prisoners in Supermax facilities”.
Callinan stated that workers are living in camps with limited recreational facilities, being served inedible food, and facing an abysmal safety record.
These reports paint a grim picture of the working conditions at the project, which has been described as an “absolute pressure cooker” with an air of a “tragedy waiting to happen”.
“You have workers living, literally locked up in a camp with limited recreational facilities in the middle of nowhere, being fed maggot-infested food and to top it off, the site has an abysmal safety record — it’s an absolute pressure cooker right now,” he said in a statement provided to news.com.au.
“I know workers are considering downing tools if things don’t improve.”
Mr Callinan claims that many workers are surviving on canned tuna and two-minute noodles because they don’t trust the food provided by the caterers.
Another major concern for the union is the safety record on the site.
Mr Callinan alleges that the site has an “abysmal safety record,” with serious safety incidents occurring every week.
According to the AWU, workers have experienced several close shaves, such as being struck by vehicles due to a lack of proper safety measures.
Additionally, there are reports supervisors have been told to remove safety tags from unsafe equipment to speed up work, and inadequate communication and supervision has led to incidents where industrial drills almost impale workers.
The AWU NSW Secretary has placed blame on the joint venture that was awarded the contract at a fixed rate, claiming they are cutting corners to improve profit margins.
“The problem is the joint venture who was awarded the contract is pinching every penny they can to try and improve their profit margin. So they’ve been cutting every corner they can on food, on safety, and on everything else,” he continued.
“Every week we’re getting reports of serious safety issues on the site including a number of near-death incidents. Blokes getting run over by vehicles backing up because they’re relying on hand signals instead of radio.
“Equipment that’s been tagged as unsafe having that tag removed by supervisors to speed things up. Industrial drills almost impaling people because proper communication and supervision isn’t in place. The whole site’s a tragedy waiting happen, it’s a miracle that no one has been killed already.”
Snowy Hydro has been contacted by news.com.au for comment.
In December, one of the project’s three tunnel-boring machines, named TBM Florence, suffered a major setback.
The colossal machine, which weighs 2,400 tonnes and stretches 143 metres in length, became stuck in soft ground within New South Wales’ Kosciuszko National Park back in December.
As a result, a sizeable hole, roughly 10 metres wide and 4 metres deep, materialised above the TBM Florence.
Earlier in February, during a Senate estimates hearing, Snowy Hydro’s chief operating officer Roger Whitby refuted claims that TBM Florence was “bogged” but admitted that the machine had made little progress over the last three months, having only moved 50-70 metres beneath the surface.
Meanwhile, the project is preparing for yet another cost increase. The new CEO, Dennis Barnes, clarified that the TBM Florence was ”paused” due to encountering soft ground and groundwater, and that there was currently no timeline for resuming operations.
The focus is currently on preparing the machine to be “unpaused.”
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