Union initiative helps keep shipbuilders in the trade and in the state

Nicholas McCallum

CEPU steps in when the defence minister goes AWOL. 

The CEPU has stepped up after Defence Minister Christopher Pyne started off the year AWOL from his duties.

In the middle of January Pyne failed again to protect Australian Australia Submarine Corp (ASC) workers in Adelaide’s shipyards from being turfed out of the job.

Another 31 workers were forced out into the “Valley of Death” because the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government’s Pyne, mainstay of the defence portfolios, could not get the act together to keep things moving at Osborne.

In recent years 3000 jobs have gone in the shipbuilding industry, including 420 from Port Adelaide’s shipyards since October 2017. But a CEPU SA and Australian Shipbuilding Federation of Unions initiative has recently launched to save workers from the Valley, keeping them in work and in SA.

Metal workers at Osborne in Port Adelaide learn of the latest cuts.

Ready2WorkTrades links tradespeople in the SA’s shipbuilding industry with other work and projects during downturns, filling the job gaps created by the Liberals’ ineptitude and dithering.

SA Assistant Branch Secretary Simon Pisoni said the initiative is “a list of the ready-to-work” tradespeople who are highly skilled and in need on jobs outside the shipbuilding industry.

“We’re being proactive in talking with state and federal departments, using whatever policies are available to target employment for ASC workers,” he said.

“This is the union doing everything it can to provide some form of job security in an industry that is depleted because of government inaction.

“We’ve gone out and put the pressure on different departments and linked them to our members so we can keep them gainfully employed and in the state.”

When the navy’s frigates and submarine programs enter the “continuous build” phase in 2022, there will be more than 5800 direct jobs, including more than 500 sparkies, at Osborne and WA’s Henderson shipyards.  

Only a few years ago, during the peak of the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) build, there were 240 electricians employed at Osborne. But with the third and final destroyer is expected to be finished in December, only 50 electrical workers still employed on it.     

Those job losses mean skills losses, as out-of-work tradies seek work in other industries and other states. 

“In the lead up to Christmas, 118 sparkies lost the jobs in the shipyards. That’s 118 Electricians all looking for work at the same time. Some have abandoned the trade,” Pisoni said, adding the union has stepped up where the government has failed.

“That’s what Read2WorkTrades is addressing.”

Simon Pisoni, (L) and Erin Hennessy (R) get cooking at Port Adelaide shipyards.

Some relief appeared to arrive when Britain’s BAE acquired ASC late last year. That was followed by news Germany’s Luerssen would build two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) at Port Adelaide, giving some ASC workers a chance to stay on.

ETU National Industry Coordinator Matt Murphy said it was a good thing to see the tradespeople working on the OPVs and the last AWD “but this same group will be the core of the skilled workforce required to construct the Hunter Class Frigates”, set to start 2022.

“Our concern is that BAE maintains all jobs and skills as it takes over the employment of more than 800 shipbuilding workers currently on the ASC Ships’ payroll,” he said.

“This is a milestone in the transition to the Federal Government’s ‘continuous build’ program but with more than 3000 jobs already lost from the industry it is vital that the current skills base is secured with no further redundancies.”

Two Offshore Patrol Vessels will be built at Osborne. Source: RAN

Two Air Warfare Destroyers have been completed: HMAS Brisbane and Hobart. Source: AUSAWD

As well as job losses, ASC copped unwarranted flack in 2014 when the bumbling defence minister, Liberal Senator David Johnson, said Australia could not trust the then-Commonwealth owned company to “build a canoe”. The slur proved his undoing, but the SA Assistant Secretary says the work speaks for itself.

“They are the best,” Pisoni said about the ships and subs and the workers who build them.

“Think back the Collins Class submarines, about 25 years ago, it was all about the shambles of shoddy workmanship. But the reality is there is nothing better.

“It’s been the same story with Air Warfare Destroyers. The first one was over time and budget because they had to iron out the kinks, but version 2 and version 3 are beating deadlines and they’re below budget.”  

That’s the premium workmanship that’s guaranteed because of strong unions and high-quality skills training. These are the workers who the CEPU and ASFU are fighting for, if we only had a government that knows what it’s doing and was on side of the local workforce too.

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