Hundreds of workers on a $6.7 billion Melbourne tunnel project could be sacked because of a squabble over who pays landfill fees.
Companies CPB and John Holland have reportedly told the state government up to 600 workers on the West Gate tunnel project could be sacked over two months.
The decision is linked to cost increases and a landfill levy for soil stored along parts of the West Gate Freeway.
One hundred workers will be stood down this week, Australian Workers' Union Victorian branch secretary Ben Davis confirmed.
"John Holland, CPB have seen fit to make 100-odd to 120 people redundant and it is terrible," he told reporters on Tuesday.
"There could be another 100-120 to go, depending on whether they start chopping the tunnelling workforce again which they've done before - earlier this year.
"Then potentially another 400 by the end of June."
Mr Davis said it was a finger pointing exercise between the parties involved as to where to take and treat the contaminated soil.
The builders have permits from the state's environment watchdog to take some of that soil to landfill but have chosen not to, he said.
Major Projects Minister Jacinta Allan said it was "absolutely disgraceful" behaviour from experienced builders to axe jobs.
"It is Transurban's contract with the builders CPB and John Holland that is causing this dispute," Ms Allan told reporters.
"They are having a squabble over who pays for the tip fees, a cost that for these experienced construction companies - a cost that is well known in terms of how you deliver a project."
Ms Allan questioned if it was a tactical move by the builders and Transurban, to exort the government to help them sort out issues.
She said Transurban needs to make sure its contract with the builders is met, to honour its contract with the government.
"Transurban needs to move heaven and earth, do everything it can to make sure that this project is delivered," Ms Allan said.
"Because it is Transurban whose name is on the contract with the Victorian government."
The government is considering all its options to hold Transurban, and its builders, to the project contract.
Toll giant Transurban, which is leading the construction of the West Gate Tunnel, said there was a fixed price and time for the project.
"We are extremely disappointed the CPB John Holland Joint Venture is taking these steps when there are options to keep staff employed," a statement on Tuesday says.
"While there are challenges on the project, there are plenty of pathways forward to progress works and we urge the CPB John Holland Joint Venture to keep these people in a job."
The joint venture declined to comment.
It is understood that impacted workers will be offered relocation or redundancies.
Transurban was warned previously by the state government it would lose millions of dollars each day the project is late.
The tunnel is due to be finished in 2023, a year behind schedule.
Australian Associated Press