It's time crackdown on lax electrical licensing protections - from the suburbs to solar farms.
For nearly two years a “sparkie” was carrying out work on homes in Brisbane after landing several jobs through Airtasker.
Amilcar Appel's dodgy work on one home led to an investigation by the Queensland Electrical Safety Office, which later landed him in court where he was found guilty of 13 offences in April.
After failing to appear in court in March, the ESO reported Appel was convicted of four section 40C (category 2) offences concerning particularly dangerous electrical work that exposed individuals to a risk of death or serious injury; eight section 55(1) offences for undertaking electrical work while not holding an electrical work licence; and one section 56(1) offence for conducting electrical work while not holding an electrical contractor licence.
Slapping Appel with the heavy fine, Magistrate Belinda Merrin remarked that while no-one was killed or injured, the offender did not cooperate with the investigation and appeared to show no remorse for his illegal work.
ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks said gig-economy job sites like Airtasker had loose licensing protections that opened the public up to exploitation and serious danger at the hands of dodgy operators.
“This was a clear case of how the public and other tradespeople can be seriously injured or killed because unskilled and unlicensed workers are doing things they should not be,” he said.
“Thankfully Queensland's ESO undertook the necessary investigations that led to justice being done before something serious happened.
"If this shows anything it's that electrical licensing needs to be strengthened and protected in every state and territory."
Unlicensed and unqualified work has been on the rise from solar farms to houses and major infrastructure projects. A fake electrician syndicate working around Sydney was linked to the electrocution of one tradesman, prompting NSW Police to issue warning to the public to check licenses before allowing work to be carried on homes.
“This is why we’re cracking down and calling out bosses who are exploiting licensing loopholes and using TAs where they shouldn’t, letting apprentices work unsupervised and filling renewables worksites with unskilled and unlicensed backpackers,” Hicks said.
“Unlicensed electrical work is unacceptable and WorkSafe regulators across Australia need to crackdown.”
Electricians often met with raised eyes when they quote a job, but the price isn't for the few hours work but the years of training and experience behind it. Owning a pair of pliers and a voltmeter doesn't make you an electrician. It takes years of training, hard work and – most importantly – an electrical licence.
This is why the ETU Queensland branch welcomed licensing reforms on the state’s “wild west” solar farms where unlicensed workers are a risk to public and worker safety.
State Secretary Peter Ong said a Clean Energy Council response to the ESO reforms that was leaked to The Australian was “overheated and hysterical”.
“For the CEC to talk about projects coming to a grinding halt is not helpful and does little to improve perceptions that the CEC and major players in the solar industry put profits before people,” Ong said.
The ETU has long called for licensing loopholes that allow unskilled and unlicensed workers on renewable projects to be closed, along with the introduction of a Code of Practice that will prevent workers being put at risk
“It was literally like the wild west where workers were picked up from backpackers and driven to the sites similar to a mango or banana farm, it was an accident waiting to happen,” Ong said.
“Safety audit after safety audit revealed unreasonable risks including faulty installations being performed by unlicensed workers, in some cases these installations were putting the workers themselves and the public at risk as well as requiring re-working and in some cases complete re-installation.”
Secretary Ong said it was vital for the CEC and industry players to work with the ETU to develop sustainable and safe projects that align with community expectations. The lack of regulation and planning, he warned, would result in more disasters like the high-profile collapse of RCR Thomlinson, which self-immolated in a race to the bottom on costs.
“The renewable sector will continue to grow and it is important that as it grows it provides safe, reliable and sustainable jobs which in turn provide safe, reliable and sustainable power supplies to the people of Queensland,” he said.