"We have escalated this dispute because the members are angry that no real progress has been made on our agreement after five months", Peter Simpson, Queensland assistant secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, told Green Left Weekly on July 18.
ETU and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) employees in the state power industry struck for 48 hours on July 16-17, with members rallying outside the Energex headquarters on July 17.
The 4000 workers at the three government-owned corporations that operate the Queensland power industry (Energex, Ergon and Powerlink) have been campaigning since February for a new industry agreement. The state government has offered a 4.5% wage increase, but the unions are demanding an additional $1.50 per hour allowance to bring power industry workers into line with wages in the private sector. The dispute is also about working conditions and safety.
Simpson told GLW that union members have initiated a levy of $25 each per week to fund the dispute. "Three members have been rostered full-time at 'Camp Crusty', staffing the picket camp [at the Banyo Ergon power facility] 24 hours a day."
This dispute is developing "many hallmarks of the 1985 SEQEB dispute", Simpson added, "only this time we are facing a Labor state government", instead of the Bjelke-Petersen National Party regime that staged a massive confrontation with Queensland power workers in the mid-1980s.
At Camp Crusty on July 17, AMWU organiser Rohan Webb told GLW that the picket camp had been going for six days.
"We are on indefinite strike at the [Blinzinger Road] Banyo site. This is part of the overall campaign. Negotiations on our claim are not progressing, so this is the only way to go", he said.
"We are looking for all other workers to support the power workers, to understand our case. We welcome all possible messages of solidarity, as well as letters to newspaper editors and state MPs."