A skills and training crisis in the Latrobe Valley is on the verge of escalating, as the region’s older skilled workforce fails to mentor younger generations, an inquiry into insecure work conditions has heard.
Speaking to the Australian Council of Trade Unions inquiry on Monday, Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker said the region’s core industries had failed to skill the next generation of apprentices; “a legacy” he said would only continue to hurt the region.
Visiting the region as part of a nationwide tour, the ACTU inquiry also heard submissions from a local employee, family members of insecure work seekers, a university researcher and dairy industry representative, to study the financial and social impacts of the national rise of “casualisation”; insecure casual and contract work.
Inquiry chair and former deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe said while insecure working arrangements were a national problem, he said he was intrigued by the disparaging divide between “relatively high waged and secure conditions” of power industry employees on specialised enterprise agreements, and the vast array of casual and contracted employees struggling to maintain secure work in the region.
“I’ve been somewhat shocked at conditions under which people are working, which have now been standardised; it puts enormous pressure for those people unable to get into those core industries to work on more casual and less secure basis,” Mr Howe said.
Mr Parker said, while the Valley’s predicament was stressful for individuals with employment uncertainty, there was a huge problem “coming at us over the next 20 years”, as the core industries continued to run a closed shop on skill development, “who keep stealing (skilled workers) from each other”.
“You’d have to take David Attenborough into a power station to find an apprentice,” Mr Parker said.
“We are at a critical stage, where we are losing our intellectual knowledge; that’s the legacy been left over the last 20 years.”
The inquiry heard from the partner of a former power industry maintenance worker, with 30 years experience, who had to teach a qualified engineer how to read logistic plans, and expressed concerns that the Valley is built-up knowledge base would not be passed down.
The inquiry, which has received more than 500 submission nationwide, and can be viewed online at securejobs.org.au, will continue to visit regional areas across the country until 22 March.