Backpackers building solar farms, Senate inquiry told

February 20th, 2018 | | industry

Solar farms in Queensland are being built by backpackers rather than qualified electricians, an inquiry has heard.

Despite the shift to renewables being hailed as a jobs winner, particularly for regional communities, union leader Peter Ong told a Senate hearing that firms were favouring labour-hire companies instead of using electricians on industrial agreements with good pay and conditions.

“There should be 50 directly employed electricians building a solar farm,” said Mr Ong, the Electrical Trades Union Queensland acting secretary. “I have five electricians and 45 backpackers who are employed through labour hire and paid poverty wages.”

He said the union was aware of unlicensed work on solar farm work sites. “The real sickening thing for us and our members in the regions is that these are projects that could have delivered decent ongoing jobs for regional Queenslanders,” Mr Ong said. “Instead, there’s no real jobs being delivered to any Queenslanders, they’re delivered to backpackers.”

His comments come after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s December decision to commit more than $150 million to expand renewable energy in Queensland, with the State’s Labor Government claiming the sector would create 15,000 jobs, largely in the regions.

Mr Ong was speaking during a Senate inquiry into the future of employment in Australia, including the impact of automation, which held its first public hearing today in Brisbane.

Mr Ong was among a group of union officials who told the inquiry there needed to be more consultation with workers before job cuts hit to prepare for the transition to different jobs. In a submission to the inquiry, the Minerals Council of Australia called for education system reform to produce more highly skilled workers to take advantage of new technology.

The council’s interim executive director David Byers said technology such as drones, robotics and artificial intelligence had changed the face of modern mining. “The future success of the minerals industry will depend on highly skilled and technologically-literate experts including operators, engineers, environmental scientists and geologists,” Mr Byers said.

Source: The Australian