Electrical workers at UQ are on strike demanding a wage increase of $3.70 per hour. After years of no pay increase members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) are fighting back, holding an indefinite protest on campus on Sir Fred Schoenell Drive until UGL management agree to their demands.
Student Action councillors spoke to picketing workers on 30th May, who explained they haven’t received a pay rise in 3 years due to a long-expired enterprise bargaining agreement. In light of skyrocketing inflation which is squeezing workers all over the country, UGL has increased its fees to the university by 5% to $103 per hour, but have refused to pass on any of this increase to workers, who only receive about $40. As usual, bosses want to make more profits for themselves, while workers get nothing.
Tony Lathouras, current ETU delegate and member since 2004, said workers are fed-up with UGL crying poor, along with UQ management led by VC Deborah Terry who gave herself a 6 figure pay-rise this year. UGL itself, one of the world’s largest blue-chip companies, raked in a massive $2.3 billion in revenue in 2021.
The workers’ demands highlight a growing problem of dramatic wage stagnation all over the country. While CEOs and university admins cite covid as an excuse to attack workers, record-breaking profits continue to make them richer than ever. Australian billionaires have more than doubled their wealth during the pandemic, and companies like UGL have benefitted massively from Jobkeeper rorts and keeping workers on site during lockdowns.
After the majority of workers at St Lucia and Gatton campuses voted down a measly offer which did not include a pay-rise, UGL threatened to stop paying workers if they took industrial action. As Tony explained, they were left with no other option but to go on strike.
“They [the bosses] stand strong together, so we’ve got to have that too.”
These workers engage in highly skilled and dangerous work that the university depends on, maintaining safety switches, as well as other essential electrical maintenance on campus. As picketers explained, it’s time to call bullshit on low wages, and grassroots action is the most effective way to fight.
When asked about potential solidarity from the National Tertiary Education Union, who represent university workers struggling from increased casualisation, job insecurity and stagnating wages, Tony ecstatically agreed that solidarity between workers is a powerful weapon in fighting against companies like UGL. Solidarity from students, too, is invaluable.
“The more they [the university admin] can screw you guys, the better their wages look. The union is the only way to get things done – we’ve got to stand together.”
UQ students should emphatically support the ETU workers’ demands all the way. We need more bold action, like these staunch workers have taken, to stand up to profit-hungry CEOs and corporate universities. Standing in solidarity with ETU workers today is an important step in building a movement that can challenge Australia’s rich and fight to give workers their fair share.
Sign the petition to support the workers’ demands here: https://chng.it/pVMPKYbDHd
This article was co-authored by Anna Redshaw and Laura Nolan.