An extortionist threatening to shoot tower crane operators if Australian contractor Multiplex does not hand over A$50m (US$40m) has failed to scare the threatened targets.

Mulitplex is one of the world’s biggest contractors with more than US$5bn of work in hand. Most of this is in Australia, but it is also working in Dubai and the UK.

It is understood that the threats were first made to the company in early February, and subsequently repeated, but they were not made known publicly until 1 March.

Multiplex is working with the police in both Australia and UK and brought in risk assessment consultants on some of its most high profile projects.

An operator on a Multiplex site in London told Cranes Today on 3 March: ‘We’re not really too bothered about it. Reports of operators not turning up to work are untrue. I have spoken to the police myself and they see it as low risk. We are led to believe that it’s just one person [making the threats]. I was treating it as a joke really, but I suppose it’s not a joke if the police are involved.’

He said that crane operators were not asking their employers for bullet-proof cabs in the crane, but added: ‘Danger money would be nice though.’

In Australia, the threats were taken marginally more seriously. Workers in Perth and Victoria walked off site on 1 March, with the local unions saying they were concerned for their safety, but most returned to work the following day. In New South Wales, where the majority of Multiplex’s sites are, workers voted overwhelmingly to stay on site.

The Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union’s NSW secretary, Andrew Ferguson, was quoted in the Australian press on 1 March saying: ‘I’ve spoken to a number of crane drivers and they’ve indicated they intend to work and they’re not going to get into this type of intimidation. We regard the threats as serious. We’re certainly not dismissive but we want to make sure there’s not unnecessary alarm for the workers and their families, nor do we want to see damage to this building company or to our industry.’

A crane industry executive in Australia told Cranes Today: ‘Even if the threats are real, no one making such an extortion bid could ever be paid. It would shut down the whole industry, maybe the economy if companies started giving into that – just like hijacking had to be resisted in the 1970s.’