Electrical Trades Union members around the country are currently voting for national and state union officials. The ballot goes from August 8-29.
Nationally, a team of Howard Worthing, former assistant Victorian secretary, and Greg Wilton, former Western Australia organiser, are challenging incumbent national secretary Peter Tighe and Allen Hicks, for the positions of national secretary and assistant national secretary respectively. Allen Hicks is former Queensland assistant secretary.
Reconnect ETU is running a full ticket against the Victorian incumbent leadership.
The incumbents are running as Full Charge. Current Victorian secretary Dean Mighell is standing for state secretary, Troy Gray for his current position of assistant state secretary and Wes Hayes for assistant state secretary. Hayes is currently an organiser for the Victorian branch.
Reconnect ETU is standing John Ingram, former national assistant secretary, for the Victorian secretary position. David Mier and Paul Coffey, former Victorian organisers, are challenging for the two assistant state secretary positions.
According to ETU National News, the challenges to the Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania state secretary positions have been withdrawn.
Green Left Weekly interviewed Dean Mighell about the election.
An edition of the ETU national journal was published in the lead-up to the ETU ballot. All state secretaries submitted articles for the national journal.
However, Mighell claimed that the Victorian article “was severely doctored”.
“Any mention of the Victorian rates of pay being the highest in the country and any criticism of the ALP and the ABCC [Australian Building and Construction Commission] was removed. The article was re-edited without any consultation with myself,” he said.
The re-edited article “didn’t represent our views. We saw it as a tragic piece of electioneering”.
The Victorian branch took the issue to court. The outcome was that ETU national secretary Peter Tighe had to send a letter with the journal, apologising for censoring Mighell’s article and attaching the original article to the magazine.
Mighell said that the Full Charge team was standing candidates for the national officer positions because it is an “inactive national office”.
“We would like to see better coordinated national campaigns so the union can be more effective.
“We’ve got severe differences of opinion on political affiliation. We believe that all members of the ETU should have the same right to vote on political affiliation that Victorian members did. We proposed a number of rule changes last year that were voted down by NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania that would have seen the rules of the union give all members the right to vote [on political affiliation].
“We sought to change the rules of the union so that the leadership of Victoria could not reaffiliate to a political party without going back to the members for a vote as well. It needs to be in the rules rather than being left up to the whim of any future leadership to work out whether we politically reaffiliate or not,” he said.
Queensland and New South Wales branches rejected the proposal for a plebiscite of all members on political affiliation because they had already voted on the issue at state conferences. Mighell responded: “We don’t just want to see a handful of members vote on that. We want that vote to be given to all members. ”
Under ETU rules, if 5% of members nationally sign a petition, it gives members the right to vote on any question. The Victorian ETU is circulating a petition nationally calling for all members nationally to have the right to vote on political affiliation. The petition can be downloaded.
According to Mighell, Victorian membership has grown to 18,400 financial members to be the biggest ETU branch, whereas the New South Wales branch is in decline. He said that the Queensland branch has grown because it had “adopted a more militant approach in the same style as Victoria” but other branches were static in membership.
Using Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, Victorian electricians are about $300 a week better off than NSW electricians and most electricians in Victoria are on a 36-hour week whereas in other states they’re not.
He added that the New South Wales branch has seven certified agreements in contracting, whereas Victoria has about 600 certified agreements in contracting, with the number likely to increase to 800.
Mighell believes that if John Ingram team is elected, they would reaffiliate the ETU to the Labor Party. After 25 years in the ALP, John Ingram resigned just a week prior to nominations.
The Reconnect ETU team website states its policies as: cut membership fees by 50%, more visits to worksites by officials, auditing of ETU entities and banning donations. It doesn’t advocate any industrial policies for members.
In contrast, the Full Charge team’s website includes a range of achievements made for members and has a focus on industrial issues.
Some of the achievements listed include:
• First union to introduce 36-hour week for majority of members;
• Constant growth in membership since 1995;
• Maintenance of job security clauses in agreements;
• First union to give members a vote on political party affiliation;
• First union to achieve annual salaries of over $100,000 for the majority of members;
• Double time rates on all overtime;
• First union to achieve extreme conditions allowance for both heat and cold in Australia; and,
• A strong record on apprenticeships.
The job security clause is subject to court challenge from the employers.
Mighell explained: “Contracting out of members’ work is an issue that confronts most unions in all industries. It’s become almost mantra for a lot of companies to say that ‘we will win work but we will sub-contract that work out to other companies’.
“The clause which we used to have in our agreements said that you cannot contract out work without the agreement of the union. That was deemed unlawful under WorkChoices.
“We had to modify that to work can only be contracted out to companies with an enterprise agreement with the union. The Fair Work Act deemed that unlawful and not compliant with the National Building Code.
“In our last round of agreements we devised a clause which said ‘you cannot contract work out to anyone whose rates of pay and conditions are less than those contained in the agreement’.
“When we certified the first agreement with that clause in it, it was opposed by the Australian Industries Group.”
The ABCC also intervened to stop the certification of the agreement, mainly around the contracting clause, said Mighell
Fair Work Australia found that the clause was lawful. The AIG appealed to the Fair Work Australia full bench and the decision is pending.
“If the decision doesn’t come down in our favour, the union will consider taking it to the high court. It’s a fundamental clause to protect workers,” he said.
The current Victorian leadership is also planning a trial of a four-day working week in the electrical contracting industry.
“If you want to work a shorter working week, you’re going to be confronted with the issue of how you fit a 36 hour week in,” Mighell said. “The early indications from our members are that they would rather work four nine-hour days and have a four-day week than be working a nine-day fortnight. This is why we’re keen to trial. These things need to be evaluated and need to be looked at with an eye on implications on health and safety and work-life balance.
“It took us the best part of seven years to win the 36-hour week in mainstream construction for every member, and we flowed that across to the other sectors. We’re the only state branch that has flowed it outside of construction into the mainstream every day electrical contracting industry.”
GLW questioned Mighell on the incumbent Victorian leadership’s claim that it is “leading the national ETU fight to keep manufacturing jobs in Australia”.
He responded that the Victorian ETU had commissioned a report on the impact of free trade agreements on Australian industry. He said there are many free trade agreements in place now, and we haven’t seen them benefit Australian workers at all.
“Where we see the carbon tax failing is not so much the notion of the carbon tax, but in how workers in industries will be effected, like in the Latrobe Valley,” Mighell said. “We should have the vision for a renewable energy manufacturing industry and the best place to locate those jobs is the Latrobe Valley.
“The federal government’s view is that’s a matter for the private sector. I say it isn’t entirely because the government can do a lot to attract and support industry in establishing itself in regional Victoria and we should intervene.
“This is a community that’s got excellent infrastructure and skills, that’s going to see job losses due to the introduction of the carbon tax. A critical piece of the equation that’s missing is jobs, so we’ve argued for renewable energy jobs such as wind generation.
“The Australian government could support industry by developing more wind turbines to meet the mandatory renewable energy target.
“There will be funding available under the carbon tax introduction. We could target getting companies to build their wind generators or their solar panels in Australia and then you get a long-term sustainable industry centred around green jobs located in the areas where they’re going to be effected by brown coal. But there isn’t a great will within the government to tackle this.”
Ingram’s campaign attacks Mighell for donating to the Greens campaign in the 2010 federal election.
Mighell responded: “Any political donation is made only by our state council, not by me at all. Our state council says that if any party or any candidate wants support, they have to address state council and outline a case for why the union should support them.
“[Greens MP] Adam Bandt was a labour lawyer who has worked for the union. He was a person we knew, we knew his values and ethics and he got great support from state council as did [Greens Senator] Richard di Nattale. One of the critical issues in supporting the Greens was the abolition of the ABCC and the restoration of workers’ international rights which the Fair Work Act fails.”
There are some other decisions which are harder to fathom. The Victorian ETU supported independent federal MP from north Queensland Bob Katter and the Victorian ALP at the 2010 state election.
Mighell responded: “ETU support for Bob Katter was because he was pro-Australian manufacturing jobs and pro-intervention of government in Australian industry, opposed the ABCC and is supportive of workers’ rights. Katter made an impression on our state council and our shop stewards, hence support was given to him.”
For the 2010 state election “there was a general evaluation of the parties and their platform. We got some good support on some key issues from Labor despite having treated us like shit in the previous 10 years. Also, the state Greens don’t have issues on industrial relations and leave that up to the federal Greens.”
Mighell added: “I have never been happier with our members’ decision to become independent than I am now. My only regret is that we didn’t do it 16 years earlier. We are more powerful and have more leverage not being affiliated to any political party than we did when we were totally beholden to the Labor Party.
“I think this is a model that the rest of the union movement should really seriously look at.”