Labour Hire and LNP killing our industry and tearing communities apart

Nicholas McCallum

Skills and conditions in Queensland being whittled down by 'shonky' labour hire. 

Flat rates of $30 per hour, no annual leave, no sick leave, no guarantee of work, no loading or allowances, pay your own travel from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and supply your own personal protective equipment (PPE).

No, this isn’t a pizza driver we are talking about - this is a labour hire rate being offered in Queensland now for a qualified electrician with eight years industry experience. And it gets worse, there are other jobs being offered for $28.50 flat rates based on sham agreements.

The ETU's Queensland & NT branch spoke with members who stood up on their days off to draw attention to this cancer affecting not just the electrical contracting industry but many more industries as well.

"Disruptive to work life, family life, no chance to plan, don’t know from day to day if you have an assignment," said Aaron, who worked two years in Labour Hire when things got pretty grim. 

ETU Queensland&NT members want to see an end to unscrupulous and shonky labour hire in the state.

"Couldn’t get a mortgage to build on some land I had so I was stuck paying rent and mortgage for the land only, sent me broke. No annual leave, no sick Leave, workers would turn up to work sick and make everyone else sick.

"On some sites workers won’t even speak up about safety because they know they could be up the road without recourse."

For Tim, turning up to the rally was important because he could see what was coming. 

"I haven’t been affected by it yet, but I can see it coming, shonky contracts, no travel two hours to Coolangatta, no job security.

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"If it happened to my family we would struggle. We are managing now with me on an EBA job but a 30% cut in wages would see us really struggle and I know there are a lot of other workers in the same boat."

Others paint a picture of labour hire companies promising the sun and delivering nothing.

"I’ve sent my resume to places and they’ve got back saying yeah there will be six months’ work coming up, then nothing, here back from them no electrical work but we’ve got a week here and a week there as a TA Or a truck driver," said one Queensland sparkie. 

"It’s bulls***. They are gaming the system and many are shonky."

Another area of concern was the solar farms. While some are doing the right thing, the prevalence of unlicensed work being done by labour hire workers living in substandard camp conditions has reached crisis level. 

"We had one ice machine for 30 sparkies, one washing machine, $4 a pop and a food allowance well below a reasonable standard, it was degrading,” one worker told the ETU. 

There was story after story of shonky labour hire companies preying on workers desperate for work.

"Short term 'assignments' mean it’s harder to justify your work history when the good EBA permanent jobs come a long it’s a vicious cycle," said one worker. 

With some desperate for work, some labour hire companies are taking advantage and watering down pay and conditions for electrical workers.

"A year or so ago I was told I could get a start if I would accept $30 flat rate. I said no I didn’t work for less than $36, they said how about $32 then.

"I dug in at $36 didn’t get a start, that’s the reality, they are undermining our industry, wages, terms and conditions and creaming off the top. It’s a race to the bottom.” 

For Brisbane man Rob it’s the same story. With a wife, three kids and a mortgage to pay he had no alternative but to work for various labour hire companies despite having eight years under his belt as a qualified sparkie. But one sticks out for Rob.

"$30 an hour flat rate, no holidays, no sick leave, no loadings, no travel money and you have to supply your own PPE," he said. 

"Some weeks after a full week of travel to and from the Gold Coast I would be lucky to get $700 in my hand, I would finish up at 6.30pm on Friday afternoon not knowing what Monday brings.

"It got that bad I had to redraw on the mortgage to pay the mortgage, in that year I had $41k taxable income."

Some like Tom have been on the major EBA projects and have put some coin away for a rainy day, but for many it’s just a rollercoaster of insecure work, stress, feeling degraded and undervalued and hoping for something better to come along.

"I feel for the young ones. No credit rating, no fulltime jobs, young tradespeople are being exploited," he said. 

For 28-year-old Convenor of ETU Youth Jimmy Little, it’s about the future of the industry and the flow on effect of casualisation on young people.

"While I haven’t been exposed to labour hire myself, I have heard lots of stories about what it means and how it constrains young people," Jimmy said. 

Workers and the union say labour hire companies are destroying communities and job security.

"Many of the guys have come out of their time and they need experience and labour hire is often the only place to get the experience. But if it keeps going the way it is school leavers are not going to take it on.

"It affects job security, income security, most can’t get a loan for a decent reliable vehicle let alone houses. They are being exploited with low wages, no credit rating, insecure work, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, it leaves many unable to get ahead and although they are working they have no way of showing a consistency required for loans etc."

"For workers with families it’s even worse, no way of getting ahead, can’t plan, can’t rely on a consistent income, puts pressure on the family unit and with that comes the social issues of drugs and depression, it’s a vicious cycle."

Jimmy and Tom highlight other growing problems: productivity, work ethic, quality and safety.

"When workers don’t have continuity of work and are constantly stressed it stands to reason that the quality of work will suffer, many feel if they speak up about issues like safety they will be punted, it’s not a healthy way to employ people, it has to change."

For Jarred, Etienne and Paddy things have to change.

That message is echoed by others in attendance, it has to better regulated and we need to Change the Rules because companies are making money through exploitation.    

For these ETU members who gave up their day off to raise awareness of the issues around labour hire, they have a couple of messages to our political leaders.

  • Get out of your offices and come and visit and talk to real workers who are building the country.
  • Instead of lining your own pockets and supporting big business, talk to real people.
  • We will hold you accountable
  • Labour Hire is killing our industry but, in the end, it will cost more than quality jobs it will cost lives.
  • The rules need to change.

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