Life is short and time goes far too fast

It’s already been four years since I took over as the Secretary of the ETU, and 2016 was the biggest year the union has had in its proud 115-year history. 

We started 2016 campaigning against CHAFTA, worked hard in the federal election to defend our members’ living standards, followed it up with the largest Shop Stewards Conference on record and conducted our biggest contracting mass meeting ever seen, attended by thousands of members.

The second half of the year saw the union taking on one of the biggest multinational companies in the world, CUB, who make record profits year in and year out. The dispute had many twists and turns, and at the height of it, we called for a rally of support in the CBD for the CUB55, which was attended by thousands of workers and effectively shut down the city for two hours.

This dispute was the largest in the branch’s history and, on the eve of Christmas, resulted in one of the greatest victories, not only for ETU members but for workers all around the country.

I would like to recognise the tremendous support the CUB55 received from all members and workers across the country and give special thanks to all those who helped and chipped in with the $20 levy to achieve this fantastic outcome – it couldn’t have been done without you.

Rallying behind our members

This year is shaping up to be no different. We have just attended one of the largest rallies in recent history to oppose the new Building and Construction Code, which will affect the living standards and working rights of hundreds of thousands of trades workers and electricians across the country. Combine this with the recent Fair Work decision, which reduces penalty rates for some of the lowest paid workers in the country, and we all need to make a stand. While this decision might not affect electricians yet, it is the thin edge of the wedge and needs to be resisted. All of us have sons, daughters, friends or relatives who work in these low-paid jobs and who more than ever need the support of a strong union like the ETU.

Life isn’t all about politics, but when you can see the impact politics can have on our members’ living standards and rights, we do need to take a stand.

Fighting against the Building Code

The rally on 9 March saw a massive turnout and initiates the start of a campaign to remove a government and restore our rights and hard-fought conditions. All members need to be aware of this struggle. It is going to be increasingly hard to hold our living standards and conditions if we take an apathetic approach. We must all come together to defend what we have achieved over the past 115 years.

The ABCC and Building Code have clearly been introduced to erode the rights of workers. In doing so, they are coming directly for your rights at work, as well as your rostered days off, set hours of work, public holidays and clauses that provide job security from being undercut and replaced by easily exploited casual workers. The new Building Code makes no mention of protecting Australian jobs or protecting apprentices and older workers, nor does it mandate for Australian procurement on major projects. It simply is an ideological code that in a time of record company profits and record low wage increases, not only is it not needed but will have the reverse effect in the industry and cause disputation and harm.

We have a duty to highlight the politicians who did the deal to give the Turnbull Government their tools of control – the ABCC and Building Code.

Whether we like it or not, all of us have to stand up to defend our rights in the workplace, and if any government or politician wants to remove those rights then we have to call them out too. Senator Xenophon, Senator Hinch and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation all went beyond the call to gift the Turnbull Government these laws that will hurt trades workers and their families across the country.

Agreement terminations

Termination of agreements is a new corporate tactic that members are increasingly facing. It is a loophole in the Fair Work Act that needs to be closed. Parmalat is the latest dispute that shows how a union agreement that encapsulates the living standards and conditions of workers can be terminated overnight. Not only is that outrageous, it should be unlawful.

The upcoming Senate inquiry that the ETU triggered into the corporate evasion of the Fair Work Act should strongly oppose the use of this tactic. Read more here .

Powering up the power sector

The 2016 Shop Stewards Conference was attended by the largest turnout of shop stewards in the ETU’s history. The conference endorsed the State of Crisis campaign, which called for a review into the power industry to look at the lack of accountability and regulation of the industry. This has seen our members being made unnecessarily redundant and turned the power assets in this state into a ticking time bomb from a lack of preventative maintenance and foresight. Following the Shop Stewards Conference, we are pleased to announce that the review has been called by the Andrews Government.

The review will be headed by independent chairperson Paul Grimes, who is a former head of government departments but is entirely independent of the power industry conglomerates that profit from the under-regulation of the network. The union will be working closely with this review to overhaul the regulation of the power assets in this state. Read more here.

Rail industry – on track for job openings

One of the positive things happening, and we take our hat off to Premier Andrews who addressed the Shop Stewards Conference regarding this, is major investments into the rail network.

The only growth industry for our members at this stage is the rail industry, and there is some fantastic work being done. This includes 50 rail upgrades and the underground extension, which will begin in 2018 and run up to 2024.

I personally met with one of the major contractors Lend Lease recently and, in their words, “money won’t buy you an electrician in Victoria from 2018 to 2024”. This is great news for our members given we have had relatively quiet times since the desalination plant finished in 2012.

The minister for the rail industry, Jacinta Allen, has done a Q&A on the rail sector which you can read here .

Futuretech – future proofing members

Futuretech, which the union opened last year, is overflowing with ETU members and young people being trained in many different courses. Even our own meeting rooms have to be booked now because of the huge demand for these courses.
This year sees Futuretech offering a range of new training packages including an A Grade refresher course to keep you up to date and employable across the industries. To stay in touch and updated on available courses, access our monthly e-newsletter or visit the futuretech web site .

Union dues and new and improved benefits in 2017

In May the union dues invoices will be sent out for payment in June. The ETU has among the lowest union fees for workers in the country, still lower than the Plumbers, Metals and CFMEU, while delivering among the highest rates of pay and conditions with a fantastic track record on health and safety.

Keep an eye out in May for our new range of benefits, adding to the existing valued benefits including ambulance and funeral cover. As an ETU member you can save thousands of dollars accessing these benefits. Also, once again this year the ETU will be drawing a raffle for a new car for any member who pays early or on time. So be in it to win it, and let’s all work together to make 2017 the year of the worker.

Touch one, touch all.

Troy Gray,
State Secretary

This article is from the Autumn 2017 issue of the ETU's members magazine. You can read the digital edition here.