ETU members 'bust through the pack'



MELBOURNE — More than 3000 Electrical Trades Union (ETU) members met at Dallas Brookes Hall on January 22 to endorse a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

The EBA, negotiated between the ETU and the main employer body, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), covers ETU members in construction, service, maintenance and labour hire — around 16,000 workers across Victoria. ETU officials confidently predict that around 1300 companies, ranging from large contractors such as Grocon and small domestic contractors will sign the agreement.

The EBA will deliver wage and allowance increases of 20.8% in the construction sector and a fully implemented 36-hour work week, nine-day fortnight by March 2004. For members in service, maintenance and labour hire, wage and allowances will total 19.5%, with the full 36-hour work week coming into force in February 2006.

ETU state secretary Dean Mighell recommended the deal to the meeting: “We've busted through the pack on wages. We've busted through the pack on shorter working hours, so that we can enjoy more leisure time, more time with our families. We've got to give the other states a chop-out in their fight for better deals.”

Officials from ETU state branches around Australia have been visiting the Victorian branch to learn from the strategies of the Victorian construction unions in their campaign for the 36-hour working week.

Mighell also said that the construction unions in Victoria had earned the ire of the royal commission into the building industry and employer bodies because of their commitment to the shorter hours campaign.

Many members got up to speak in favour of the proposed EBA and to warn that the union still faces a fight to win “the 36" in maintenance, service and labour hire. Some ETU members in maintenance and labour hire were already on strike at the time of the meeting, as they battle their employers for a better deal.

The meeting voted to place a levy of a minimum of $10 per week on all contracting section members to support those on strike.

Apprentices organiser, Shaun Leane, told the meeting about the campaign to end unpaid downtime for apprentices employed by group training companies, which are the equivalent of labour hire firms for apprentice electricians. Leane pointed out that some apprentices had gone without pay for up to four months.

In the apprentices' meeting held prior to the mass meeting, apprentice members endorsed a strike for February 4 in support of their campaign. Apprentices plan to picket VICTEC, the largest group training company in Victoria, on the day, giving management a day of “downtime”. Calling unpaid downtime “a blight on our industry”, Leane said that if ETU members wouldn't tolerate an employer failing to pay a tradesperson, they shouldn't tolerate group training companies which run their business off the backs of unpaid apprentices.

From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.
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