Fears backpackers could be electrocuted by solar panels
Summary: SOLAR farm contractors have been using unlicensed labour for electrical work, raising concern the workers involved, many of them young backpackers, could be electrocuted.....
According to the State Government, its Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and Electrical Safety Office has issued 30 notices for breaches of safety and electrical laws in a crackdown on solar projects.
It did not identify the projects but said the infringements included failing to implement safe systems of work, failing to provide personal protective equipment for labour hire workers and unlicensed electrical work.
Industry group Master Electricians said it appeared some contractors may have overstepped the mark by having unlicensed workers mount and plug in prefabricated solar panels which, while the work is relatively simple, needed to be done by an electrician.
The Electrical Trades Union said 90 Bulgarian backpackers had worked on the Darling Downs Solar Farm and that in Townsville, Filipino workers were employed on temporary work visas at the Ross River Solar Farm, allowing the contractor, Schneider, to pay them the equivalent of what they would earn in The Philippines.
Schneider has since said it would pay the Filipinos the appropriate Australian rate of pay.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the issue of foreign workers was a matter for the Federal Government but urged employers to employ qualified locals first.
“With the construction of solar and wind farms expanding throughout Queensland, we must ensure electrical safety is paramount,” Ms Grace said.
The Government has formed a working group to develop codes of practice for the construction, management and operation of solar and wind farms and recommend regulatory changes.
Master Electricians Australia CEO Malcolm Roberts said there was some uncertainty in legislation about whether an electrician was required to mount and connect solar panels but that there had been a direction from Government to clear up the issue.
“We think that’s a wise decision,” Mr Richards said.
“The voltage coming from DC panels is enough to seriously hurt somebody.
“You don’t want unskilled people doing these dangerous tasks.”
ETU State organiser Dan McGaw said they had found situations where electrical supervisors were in the office doing paperwork while backpackers were doing the work.
He questioned why companies were being given temporary work visas for overseas labour.
A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said the temporary visa program aimed to achieve a balance between supporting Australian businesses needing short-term highly specialised workers and not undermining the employment for Australians.