Unlicensed, Unsupervised, Unacceptable: ETU calls for crackdown on electrical work cost and corner cutting

Nicholas McCallum

Bosses are bending the rules to save costs. It's putting lives in danger. 

With top-tier buildings cracking, teenage pedestrians shocked on city streets and some major public works failing to meet design standards, it’s clear there is a growing problem with safety and standards in NSW – and we need your help tackling it.

The ETU wants to draw attention to how much of the work on major projects is being done by unlicensed workers and how many jobsites are being run by mobs that don’t follow proper standards for using unlicensed, unsupervised electrical trades assistants.

We know our members are being short changed because bosses are putting on trades assistants to do the work that should only be done by qualified electricians.

If the work is being done unlicensed and unsupervised, we say it’s unacceptable and it's illegal and must stop. 

The union is calling on all members to be mindful of potential hazards that could be lying in wait for fellow workers or members of the public.

And we need to your help documenting the problems.  

So we can properly note and address these problems, we need to document them with evidence – using pictures and video whenever possible of working being carried out by unsupervised electrical trades assistants.

We're calling on you to help gather evidence - but please note: Don't take photos or videos on your jobsite if it's going to cause you to breach your employment contract. 

Unlicensed, Unsupervised, Unacceptable: Got something to share? Contact the ETU.

The ETU is trying to draw more of the public’s attention to these matters, so the state government and regulators take action against dodgy operators who are cutting corners.

Work on Sydney's Metro project carried out by unlicensed and unsupervised electrical workers is cause for concern.

We’re calling on all members to be mindful of illegal electrical work that’s being carried out on your jobsites.

ETU National Communications Coordinator Nicholas McCallum said providing “documents, memos, emails” to the union was always necessary for gathering evidence but photos and video played a crucial role.

“We want to have the evidence ready to go so we can easily forward it to journalists and they can publish it,” he said.

“Pictures are great but video is even better.”

McCallum added the hard material was “invaluable” when it comes to confirming safety breaches and improper practices and poor management behaviour on jobsites.

“We want to be able to show the scene, the damage or the conditions and video is really good for that,” he said. 


  • Use landscape when taking video or pictures

  • When there are incidents or issues, film short videos of ‘the scene’ - but first make sure you won't breach your contract

  • Try to send all documents, videos, images to your union organiser

  • If your bosses send you something claiming it's from your union – don’t trust it! Contact the union immediately!

In the ACT, the Electrical Trades Union has drawn attention to the Canberra light rail’s poor flood planning and cables that are shallower than the 750mm depth and its likely failure to meet Australian standards for cable pits.

After being alerted by sources, The Canberra Times was able to gather the evidence in this instance because the work on the $939 million project was being carried out close to the full view of the public. Many of the jobsites where unlicensed work is conducted are locked up behind walls and fencing or deep underground. 

The cables for the Canberra light rail are not a sufficient depth of 750mm. Source: The Canberra Times

ETU Organiser  Mick Koppie warned the light rail project won't pass standards. Source: Canberra Times

The ETU WA branch drew a lot of attention to troubles at the Perth Airport tunnel last October when organiser Stuart Nicholson was able to gather images of the dodgy, unsafe working conditions and practices rife at the site.

By documenting what was happening, the ETU was able to show the extent of the problems to Nine News in Perth, who then broadcast it to the wider public.

On a jobsite in mid-January there was a dangerous electrical event at one station on the multi-billion-dollar Sydney Metro project. The incident was caused because the cabling was not properly terminated and energised by an unlicensed worker. 

The contractors on site denied the work was done unsupervised and unlicensed electrical workers.

Evidence of shoddy work in Perth's airport tunnel.

When ETU organisers at the NRT project attended the site, they noted in their report the “distinct charcoal colouring, the end of the cable was burnt out and copper cabling shows the strands in a melted state”.

ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks, who has been on the ground in the Sydney construction industry, said it was lucky the near miss was not a fatal, but it highlighted how corners were being cut and licensing standards were being ignored.

“The NSW Liberal government is putting enormous pressure on workers to finish these projects and because too many workers aren’t licensed corners are being dangerously cut,” he said.

"Bosses are using unlicensed workers to save a few dollars. We will continue to pursue these dodgy bosses and make them accountable for allowing dangerous unlicensed work to be used on these sites.  

“The public knows better than to use unlicensed electricians to do work on their homes, but the government is ignoring the huge numbers of unlicensed electrical workers and major public projects.

“Using unlicensed and unqualified electrical workers creates dangers on site and inevitably the public will be put at risk because of sub-standard electrical work that could end in an avoidable death.”

The charge of unlicensed electrical workers working where they shouldn’t be is one that has been getting louder across NSW and the rest of the country.

Cabling mess documented on the Sydney Metro project.

With the renewable energy boom underway, many members have noted the huge numbers of contractors employing unlicensed and unskilled labour to do electrical work on far too many large-scale energy projects in numerous states. 

This will no doubt lead to more unsafe and substandard work being carried out on these sites as bosses try to cut corners and keep their costs down.

So we can continue to pressure state and federal governments to crack down on illegal electrical work, we need to continue to gather evidence of the unlicensed and unsupervised work that is being carried out on jobsites everywhere.  

Evidence that clearly shows shoddy work undertaken by unlicensed labourers will help us swing the biggest and heaviest weapon of all: public opinion.

IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO REPORT you can get in touch and share videos or pictures by direct message to the ETU National Facebook page HERE.


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