Friday, June 14, 2024

Turning a stop sign for $120,000 a year: What it’s really like to be a traffic controller

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Key Points
  • Stop sign holders and labourers are set to receive a pay rise under a new workplace agreement.
  • Workers and the union say the pay rise reflects the risks they face in traffic.
  • One former traffic controller told SBS News workers are often abused and hit by cars.
Stop sign holders and labourers in Victoria are set for a pay rise under a new workplace agreement, with full-time employees to earn $120,000 a year for a 36-hour week, plus allowances and overtime.
The Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU) and the state government are negotiating the final details of the agreement.
While some social media users have questioned the pay rise, comparing it to salaries in industries such as nursing and teaching, workers say it reflects the conditions and risks in their line of work.
Jade Campbell was a traffic controller in Victoria for four years and is now a construction organiser specialising in traffic management.

She shared her industry insights with SBS News.

What does a typical day look like on the job?

“There is no such thing as a typical day for most traffic controllers,” Campbell said.

“You are not told where you’re working until the day before, usually about four or five o’clock in the afternoon. You could be doing anything from … small 15-minute jobs, or shutting down lanes on the M1.”

Jade Campbell (right) worked as a traffic controller for four years. Source: Supplied / Australian Workers Union

What does the job involve?

“The traffic controller is there to implement a traffic set-up to ensure the flow of traffic continues around a job site.”

“So you have to understand how traffic works, you have to judge the speed of the traffic as well because no one ever does the speed limit. Everyone’s always speeding through a site. It’s scary, to be honest.”

Do you work a lot of odd hours?

“I would work from approximately 7pm for pre-start at the project and we’d have to be off the road by 5am, but by the time you are off the road packed up back to the crib area, it’s usually about 6am.”

Does it ever feel risky or unsafe?

“There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t verbally abused, (had) things thrown at me, or people driving straight through stop bats (stop signs) on the freeways.

“You get drunk and disorderly people abusing you because you’ve shut down a road; I know many traffic controllers who have been hit by cars; I’ve been nudged by a car while I was on a stop bat on a residential street when I was very new.

“I’ve had friends who have been in a lane closure whose vehicle has been struck by a drunk driver, I’ve lost people from the industry because of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being struck either in the back of a TMA (Truck Mounted Attenuator) or on the job, the abuse, everything. We’ve lost about four traffic controllers in as little as three years.”

Do you think this job is misunderstood?

“You look at the comments on all these different pay dispute argument articles that are out there saying that ‘a person holding a stop bat’s getting paid more than this, that the next’ … it’s not as simple as that.

A woman wearing a black shirt sitting at a table at an event.

Jade Campbell is now a construction organiser, and described working in traffic control as scary and high-risk.

“It really grinds your gears when people sit there and have this idea that traffic controllers are only used to (hold stop signs) or that they’re undereducated … they are not valued enough.

“They are the only people on the majority of the job sites now who don’t get paid those rates.”

Do you think the new pay deal is reasonable?

“The pay should definitely be incorporated into what the risk of the job is – so obviously someone who is working on a council road doing a tiny little setup that has minimal traffic, wouldn’t need to be paid at the high risk,” she said.

“But traffic control is a high-risk job … and they should be paid equivalent to that. Many people have been struck by vehicles (and) killed in the industry.

“It’s pretty dire straits out there when you’re a traffic controller trying to do the right thing. I think that they should get paid for the higher risk of the job.”

What support is available to workers in the industry?

“It’s a casualised industry. So many of those employees, they don’t know whether if they’re going to be working, so if they speak up about a safety concern, these guys are getting cut.
“They need to start having health and safety representatives within the company to have a person that can verbalise all the safety issues on the ground that won’t be prosecuted. That could help change a very unsafe work environment.”

-Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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