Backpackers recruited for Qld solar farms

By Country News

Solar farms in Queensland are being built by ‘‘backpacker’’ labour rather than qualified electricians, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

A Senate committee investigating the future of employment in Australia, including the impact of automation, held its first public hearing on Tuesday in Brisbane.

Electrical Trades Union Queensland acting secretary Peter Ong told the senators 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,’’ Mr Ong said.

‘‘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.’’

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 like 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.