'Best job' island workers liken housing to Alcatraz

While Briton Ben Southall, the man with the "best job in the world", enjoys a luxury villa on the Great Barrier Reef, construction workers on Hamilton Island are living in "Alcatraz", according to a union official.

Workers on the island's yacht club construction site are living in accommodation at Palm Valley, provided by the development company Park View Group.

The island is currently home to Southall, who was chosen from 34,000 entrants for a $150,000 six-month job promoting the reef to the world.

But Builders Labourers Federation official John Lund said the worker accommodation is "vastly inadequate".

He said the units are smaller than prison cells, with five to six men crammed in four-person apartments where bedrooms are divided by thin panel walls.

The dimensions of the rooms are too small, and, according to Mr Lund, are in breach of the National Building and Construction Industry Award.

"They are shocking, I wouldn't live there ... and I'm a pretty easy going bloke," he said.

"They were filthy, there was possum poo on the tables. Outside the huts ... it was infested with mosquitoes.

"The workers there are referring to their accommodation as `Alcatraz'."


Mr Lund said the workers have also staged stopwork meetings and have withdrawn their labour from the job due to safety concerns.

He says scaffolding on the site is not up to Australian standards needs to be repaired.

New Zealander Dave McGowan, a scaffolder working on the site, says workers on the island face discrimination and are treated like "nobodies".

"Poor people, us people are not allowed here. It's discrimination, straight away discrimination, because we don't have the coin mate," he said.

Mr Lund said the workers are intimidated.

"They have to accept those conditions and that's why they keep their mouths shut," he said.

"I've seen evidence of inadequate rooms, amenities, toilets, all that says ... they're treated less, yes they are.

Greg Thompson, CEO of Park View Group, said that while the company offers the Palm Valley accommodation to its employees, and the employees of contractors, no one is obliged to stay.

Park View is paying for the accommodation under an agreement with Hamilton Island.

"It's proper staff accommodation that's been on the island for some time," said Mr Thompson.

He said he had an occupation certificate issued by the Whitsundays council which stated that the accommodation was "appropriate and acceptable".

In response to reports that the units were filthy and likened to Alcatraz, a US island formerly used as a prison, he said: "That is absolutely inconsistent with my understanding of the state of that accommodation."

"Our employees, to the best of my knowledge, consider that their accommodation is adequate," he said.

Mr Thompson says the safety issues raised by the union about the scaffolding were "not uncommon" work site issues and said they had been "rectified immediately".

He said that, to his knowledge, the job had "never been stopped", but that work safety meetings had been held.

Whitsunday Regional Council has confirmed that it approved the Palm Valley accommodation in 2001 and said it was also approved in 2005 and 2006 by private certifiers.


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