Workers on Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill project are being paid a weekly bonus of A$205 ($223) under contractual terms designed to deter them from taking unapproved industrial action.
The bonus, known as a ''project incentive payment'', has been included in the workplace agreements of at least two contracting companies working on the US$10 billion mine, port and rail project, and is believed to be involved in many more across the construction phase.
Amid speculation the project will be hard-pressed to deliver first ore on schedule in September 2015, the AWU (Australian Worker's Union) has helped to broker the incentive payments, which can be forfeited by participating in strike action, according to documents lodged with the Fair Work Commission.
The identical clause appears in workplace agreements struck for Sydney-based company Diverse Tank Engineering, and construction company Neville Mallard, both of which are working on Roy Hill. It contains the following condition: ''In any week in which an employee engages in industrial activity not approved by the employer that ceases or disrupts operations, the payment will be forfeited in full.''
The payment can also be forfeited for certain unexplained absences, and will rise to A$215 per week from April 1, 2015.
Both Roy Hill and the AWU declined to comment on the incentive payments on Wednesday.
The AWU has overseen more than 120 separate workplace contracts for companies working on Roy Hill over the past 15 months, and its WA state secretary, Stephen Price, said the relationship with Roy Hill had been positive.
''It's an excellent example of how you can work with companies to get the project up,'' he said on Sunday.
Roy Hill has previously described the AWU's approach as ''firm but collaborative''.
Seyfarth Shaw partner Chris Gardner, who is an adviser on workplace relations to some of Australia's biggest companies, said the terms of the contracts were a reminder of the power that unions wield over major projects in this country.
''There is a commercial reality about the degree of power unions have in making these agreements and that is expressed in the generous terms and conditions which are often well beyond that needed to meet the demand for labour,'' he said.
Meanwhile Roy Hill will be monitoring the progress of embattled mining services company Forge, which limped into administration this week.
Forge was contracted in December by Samsung to help build a processing plant at Roy Hill in partnership with Spanish company Duro Felguera, but the future of that contract is now uncertain. A Roy Hill spokesman said the mine would not be significantly affected by Forge's troubles.
- Sydney Morning Herald