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Renewable Energy: Sharing The Benefits With Workers

Renewable Energy: Sharing The Benefits With Workers

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While creating an employment bonanza, Australia’s renewable energy sector has created too many insecure jobs says the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

A report released by the ACTU on Friday outlines how it sees the situation with renewable energy employment in Australia, mainly in relation to large-scale projects, and the need for national planning.

“The renewables sector is expected to create as many as 45,000 jobs by 2035. Without proper policy to protect workers that’s a huge number of workers whose employment will be insecure,” said ACTU President Michele O’Neil. “The growth of the renewables sector presents potential for secure, local employment that the Morrison Government has failed to capitalise on.”

The report states the union movement’s experience has been many new renewable energy jobs are short-term, insecure and poorly paid compared with unionised jobs in fossil fuels.

Among its concerns is the sugar-hit big renewables projects provide – a burst of construction and installation jobs, but once the construction phase is complete there are fewer jobs in the ongoing operation and maintenance of clean power stations.

The ACTU is also concerned about missed manufacturing opportunities.

“For large scale solar farms, which almost exclusively import solar panels from other countries, we are only seeing 1 in every 40 manufacturing jobs based in Australia,” the report states.

The ACTU says while Australia has also generally also imported fossil fuel generation technology such as boilers and generators, there is an opportunity to have more renewable energy manufacturing jobs located here given the number of renewable projects ahead.

Other problems it sees impacting on employment:

  • A lack of enduring and coherent climate and energy policy in Australia
  • High churn of companies in the renewable energy industry – partly as a result of the above.
  • Lack of demand by investors in projects and purchasers of energy for good jobs.
  • The “race to the bottom” in relation to project costs.
  • Lack of clear signals from government on related employment.
  • “Social licence” – encouraging local hiring and local job creation as part of that is under-developed.
  • Challenges of EPC contracting – related to the churn point mentioned above.
  • Poor employment practices of proponents.
  • Under-investment in training and development pathways.
  • Outsourced operations and maintenance.

Over the years of reporting on large-scale projects, I’ve often seen mention of commitments to local employment in supporting documents. Perhaps there’s some disconnect between what is said prior to development approvals being granted and what happens once they are?

One of the ACTU’s beefs is what it says is the practice of large-scale solar project jobs being filled by backpackers and overseas workers on labour hire contracts.

The report isn’t all negative – it provides some examples of success and good practice, one being Karadoc Solar Farm. The project was built with a workforce of 300, most of whom were locals and a number from traditionally disadvantaged groups. It also provided training to 25 trainees who obtained a Certificate II in Electrotechnology and 15 have since transitioned to electrical apprenticeships.

What About The Small-Scale Solar Industry?

A report published by Clean Energy Council in June stated small scale solar power employed around 37% of Australia’s clean energy workforce last year – it’s a big employer collectively made up of thousands of businesses, manay of them quite small.

The ACTU’s report says it had very little data to make evaluations of employment practices in the small-scale sector.

“This is partly a result of the lack of union representation and absence of certified workplace agreements in the sector,” it states. “In undertaking this report we have been unable to find a single enterprise agreement for a company operating purely in the small scale solar sector.”

Among the installers contacted in preparing the report there was some wariness about questions relating to union membership and registered workplace agreements. This shouldn’t be necessarily read as meaning installation companies are treating their teams like crap. Talk of union involvement can make even the most ethical business a tad jittery.

However, from those discussions the following points were identified as being signals of good employment practices:

  • Most jobs being performed by in-house staff rather than contractors
  • Commitment to apprenticeships
  • Commitment to diverse and inclusive hiring practices
  • Existence of servicing and maintenance divisions within the business

The ACTU says best practice employment standards would be welcome for the small-scale sector and, unsurprisingly, it encourages union representation and participation.

The final part of the report makes a number of recommendations for the renewable energy sector generally for improving job quality and security.

“Australia doesn’t have to choose between good jobs and a safe climate. We can, and must, achieve both,” says Ms. O Neil.

And of course, the ACTU is here to help.

Source : solarquotes
Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network