Highlights from the 2022 National Officers Conference

After three years of separation due to the pandemic, ETU officers from every state and territory came back together to talk about what our Union has achieved since 2019 and how we can improve the lives of electrical workers and their communities moving forward.

Our Union has grown bigger over the last three years, and we’re stronger and more united than ever.

We’re looking to the future and making sure that we put our members’ best interests forward ahead of the federal election in May.

Here are some of the highlights of the conference:

Upcoming federal election

If we want workers’ rights to improve, then we need a government that listens to unions.

The present government refuses to work constructively with unions and instead attacks the union movement and working peoples’ rights every chance it can get. There are so many ways the federal government is leaving workers behind – on wages, workers entitlements, job security, the cost of living and reducing the ability of unions to advocate for their members. We’ve spent the last nine years trying to stop the LNP making changes that will rip off our members.

A Labor Government has committed to working constructively with the ETU and giving workers a real voice. They want to tackle insecure work, the lack of job security, mass casualisation, introduce 10 days paid domestic violence leave, criminalise wage theft and they want to work with, not against, unions to make a difference to working people’s lives. They want to strengthen our grid and invest in the renewable energy industry and make sure the jobs in these sectors are good jobs that workers actually want.

If the Labor party is elected, we will be holding them to account just like any other government to do what they have promised to do.

A Blueprint for Better, Cleaner Jobs

We launched an incredible report “A blueprint for Better, Cleaner Jobs” created by Shirley Jackson with Sam Ibrahim at Per Capita.

The ETU commissioned this report because we acknowledge the absence of a roadmap or plan to transition workers and communities from the fossil fuel industry into good jobs in a growing renewables industry. This landmark report shows the steps forward to the energy industries of the future that also keeps workers and communities front and centre.

The report shows that more than 450,000 jobs could be created in coming decades under a national renewable energy plan.

ETU Acting National Secretary Michael Wright said a carefully co-ordinated transition to renewable energy would inject working Australians and their communities into the industries of the future.

“We have the opportunity now to create a national plan for jobs for the thousands of workers and dozens of regional communities which currently rely on fossil fuel sources for their jobs and economic prosperity,” he said.

ETU National President Troy Gray said Australia must act quickly and decisively to make up for the lack of a national plan thus far.

“Uncoordinated unilateral plans have led to insecure and unsafe work and sudden disruptions like overnight closure announcements leaving thousands of workers in precarious employment or worse, unemployed with no future job prospects,” he said.

We need to protect workers as the economy transitions from fossil fuels to renewables, and this document is a roadmap on how to do it. Workers and communities need to be in control of their futures, and the time to take action in this area isn’t some point in the future, it’s right now.

Free Trade Agreements and migrant worker exploitation

We debated about how to protect our jobs and the rights of temporary migrant workers who are systematically exploited in this country. The government is trying to create even more free trade agreements without protections for workers. We need to ensure they come as permanent migrants, not temporary migrants whose visas are controlled by their employer.

Officials from every state had a story to share about how employers in different industries are exploiting temporary overseas workers. In WA the ETU recently exposed the wage theft of Filipino workers at Austal shipbuilding. This exploitation hurts migrant workers and it also hurts local workers by undercutting the pay and conditions required by Australian law.

Anti-Nuclear policy

We heard from Australian Conservation Foundation’s Dave Sweeney and Friends of the Earth’s Dr Jim Green on why there is no future for uranium mining or nuclear power in this country.

“The economic, human, environmental and public health costs of uranium mining and its waste are just too high,” said Mr Sweeney.

“There are cheaper, more robust, resilient and safer alternatives for power generation such as renewables,” he said.

Dr Jim Green explained the exorbitant costs of building and running a nuclear power plant, which has seen many plants around the world closing and the percentage of the world’s electricity that comes from nuclear falling to just 10%.

He also explained the threat of weapons proliferation, often hidden behind a civil nuclear program.

The often spruiked ‘Small Modular Reactor’ (SMR) technology is still a pipe dream after over 50 years of trying to make this technology work. It won’t solve any of our problems.

It’s not a solution for our energy needs. It’s not good for workers and it’s not good for the community.

There is #nofuturefornuclear in Australia.

Women of the ETU

We engaged in some robust debate about the best ways to get more women into our trade and our Union. We have a long way to go to improve the participation rate of women in the electrical trades, but the ETU has committed to some practical goals nationally that will go towards getting more women into the trade and the union.

CEPU SA Assistant Secretary Jess Rogers then spoke about the horrible standards of amenities women and men are forced to accept in the electrical trades.

Amanda from CEPU TAS, Erin from CEPU SA and member Vashti shared their personal experiences at work having to use unsafe, unclean, inaccessible or simply non-existent bathrooms.

It’s disgraceful that we still need to fight for an issue like this in 2022, but it is an important health and safety issue, and it is a basic human right.

We need state branches and their members to get behind this issue so we can make real change.

Our conference was a strong reminder of the important work our Union is doing around the country, and reaffirmed the strength we have in advocating for change.

The ETU has been around for over 100 years, and in 2022 we’re stronger than ever!

Major thanks to our sponsors Energy Super, Cbus and Protect for your support.

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This article was publised on 28 April 2022.