Power workers march for pay and conditions

May 17, 2008

More than 1000 electricity workers, employed by Energex, Ergon Energy and Powerlink, marched through the city on May 14 in an escalation of the combined power unions' campaign for improved pay and conditions from the three state government-owned corporations.

The workers gathered in Queens Park, then marched to State Parliament for a final rally. Along the way the rally stopped outside the offices of Energex and Ergon Energy in the city. Marchers chanted, "We're strong, we're loud, we're union, and we're proud!" and "The workers united will never be defeated!".

Electrical Trades Union (ETU) organiser Garry Rogers told Green Left Weekly: "There are two main issues for us: safety of the power system for workers and the community, and better wages. Queensland power workers are currently the second lowest paid, after WA, in the country."

ETU assistant secretary Peter Simpson said union members wanted a $1.50 an hour wage increase on top of the Bligh Labor state government's offer of a 4.5% rise, according to the May 15 Brisbane Courier-Mail. "We're here because of 12 months of protracted negotiations that have gone nowhere," he said.

Speakers from the Australian Services Union (ASU), the Queensland Services Union (QSU) and others explained that skilled staff from the state power industry were currently being lost to other industries offering better wages. Improved superannuation is another issue currently under negotiation.

The unions also pointed out that the state's electricity grid has been allowed to run down over many years. Serious safety issues are posed by the refusal of the corporations to carry out adequate maintenance over time.

"We busted our backsides to get the Labor Party into power in the state, and Kevin Rudd federally. And this is how they treat us?" Simpson told the rally outside parliament, to loud boos from the crowd.

The rally was part of a state-wide action involving members of the ETU, ASU, QSU and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. Up to 5000 workers struck for 24 hours around Queensland. Rallies were also held in Maryborough, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville.

Jonathan Strauss reports that about 150 workers rallied outside the Ergon Energy office in Cairns and, later, local parlimentarians' offices.

ETU delegate Stuart Traill addressed the crowd. He attacked the latest employer offers. He said, for example, the proposed pay increase does not keep pace with price rises. Also, the employers are making demands for unspecified "one-person tasks", which suggests a threat to workers' safety on the job.

Traill called for the workers to remain united in their fight. He said a defeat for them in this fight would open the way for the state ALP government to follow the NSW government in attempting to privatise the state's electricity industry.

Traill said the government and the companies were engaged in a "premeditated attack" on workers and their unions. Following anti-ALP interjections from some of the unionists, he said he had "no problems" campaigning against the region's parliamentarians — all ALP — right up to the next state elections. The crowd responded with "The workers united will never be defeated".

The various rallies passed a common resolution which called upon Premier Anna Bligh to step in and broker a satisfactory agreement in the power industry, or otherwise workers would picket the state ALP conference and refuse to repair any electricity outage affecting the venue.

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