The Guardian • Issue #2065

Baking in inequality – a stunning betrayal

Electrical Trades Union

Worker up high on power cables.

Photo: (CC0).

The federal government has been accused of a stunning betrayal after it signed off on a Labour Migration Agreement that will see 400 temporary visa workers brought into the country to work on renewable energy transmission infrastructure at cut price wages, jeopardising the existing workforce.

The Electrical Trades Union is vowing to bring the issue to a head on the floor of the Labor Party National Conference.

The $2.3bn EnergyConnect electricity interconnector is a 700km 330kv transmission line being built between Wagga Wagga NSW and Robertstown in SA, with a connection to Red Cliffs in Victoria, connecting grids across the three states.

The Labour Migration Agreement was sought by Green Light Contractors, the principal contractor on the project, despite them already having a contractor workforce performing the work. The Labour Migration Agreement approved by Minister Giles effectively bakes that exploitation in, codifying the company’s ability to pay workers $10 less per hour than the current workforce.

“This is a disgraceful move from Minister Giles who should hang his head in shame,” said Allen Hicks, ETU NSW Secretary. “His rhetoric on migrant workers does not match his actions. He has today rubber stamped workplace inequality based on visa status.”

Green Light Contractors has previously refused and obstructed ETU organiser attempts to enter the worksite to meet with workers. On 9th May 10 employees were blocked from talking to an ETU organiser during their lunch break about their workplace rights, with the Union obtaining a federal court injunction to get its organisers onto site. More recently the Union has discovered serious allegations of underpayments and work health and safety breaches.

“This is the very definition of rewarding bad employer behaviour. It is a kick in the guts to everyone who believes in workplace decency. This country was built on migrant labour, but migration of this scale should be permanent and the workers must have the capacity to enforce the same rights and receive the same pay as Australian citizens and employers who want to access migrant labour must first demonstrate a commitment to training local Australian workers.

“We have genuine concerns about the safety of these workers and the Labour Migration Agreement does not mitigate the Union’s concerns.”

ETU National Secretary, Michael Wright, said the Union was outraged by the the decision.

“We are stunned by this decision. Australia will not meet its clean energy targets if we continually fail to invest in the workforce skills we need. Decisions like this don’t deliver the promise of Powering Australia. We won’t achieve the social licence needed for the energy transformation if companies can simply avoid offering local communities and local businesses the jobs and wages they need. Decisions like this, which do not guarantee one single Australian apprenticeship, fail to deliver for our workers, our regions, or the energy transition. The government was fully aware that this company wants access to 400 migrant workers but has not committed to employ a single Australian apprentice on this project, it beggars belief that it would be signed off anyway.

“The ETU will use every political, legal and industrial tool at its disposal to ensure this is the last rotten deal.”

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