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September 2004   

Interview: True Matilda
Former senior bureaucrat John Menadue coordinated the group of 43 calling for truth in government; and now he has bigger fish to fry.

Politics: State of Play
Are all political parties the same? Workers Online tries to cut through the jargon to compare the major parties' approaches to key policy areas.

Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Public Private Partnerships amount to privatisation by stealth. Or do they? Jim Marr investigates.

Unions: Rhodes Scholars
Tim Brunero discovers how the Electrical Trades Union is doing its best to ease the national apprentice crisis.

National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
Noel Hester previews how unions will be fighting the federal election - on the ground and online.

International: People Power
Over the next four years there is a real potential a major struggle will take place for workers´┐Ż rights and the creation of truly democratic unions in China., writes Andrew Casey

Economics: A Bit Rich
Who Gets What? Why? And So What?, Frank Stilwell reviews the BRW's Rich List

History: Mine Shafts
It's 25 years since Nymboida passed the baton to United, writes Peter Murray

Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Former RAAF engineers could be sitting on a health time bomb, Tim Brunero reports.

Organising: Building a Wave
Community groups, unions and social movements all practice organising, wrties Tony Brown and Amanda Tattersall.

Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
How dare any Liberal suggest that the Prime Minister is a lying rodent! Resident bard David Peetz reports on the outrage that this slur has justifiably caused.

Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Tim Brunero writes The Battle of Algiers is a coldly objective, almost scientific anatomy of revolution.

Culture: The Word On The Street
Phil Doyle reports on how the Australian working class experience lives on through the words of the remarkable Geoff Goodfellow.


The Soapbox
Hail to the Metro-Sexual!
If the cultural shift required in the workplace to give greater security to working families was broadly accepted the ACTU would not be locked in an adversarial Work and Family test case argues Sharan Burrow.

The Westie Wing
In his latest missive from Macquarie Street our resident Parliamentary commentator, Ian West, walks us through issues around the PBS.

How Bush Lost His Wings
Tracking the National Guard Career of the Fatuous Flyboy from New Haven, Jeffrey St Clair.

The Locker Room
The Name of the Game
Phil Doyle wonders whether we are barracking for the sponsor or the team.

Women to Women
APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad is working to create opportunities for Palestinian women living in Lebanese refugee camps.


Interest Overboard
A tired, ageing government tries to scare the electorate into re-electing it on the basis of a lie. Sound familiar? Yep, John Howard is going to the polls again.


 Sprung: Howard Liberal with Truth

 Yanks Demand Racism

 The Greening of Labour

 Mums Move to Ease Squeeze

 Flying Kangaroo Goes to Water

 Health Warning for Bank Robbers

 Heritage Goes to Waste

 Freespirit in Hiding

 Offensive Toilets Threaten Pupils

 Telstra Dials Workplace Acquiescence

 P-Plate Nightmare for Young

 Free Loaders on Notice

 Funny Money Raises Interest

 Privatisation Debate Energised

 Activists What's On!

 Gold Gold Gold for Neolibs
 Co-operating At All Costs
 Fan Mail
 All Good Except You
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Rhodes Scholars

Tim Brunero discovers how the Electrical Trades Union is doing its best to ease the national apprentice crisis.

Rahul Sugumaran had sleepless nights before quitting his job and volunteering for a long-term pay cut.

He was soon to marry his childhood sweetheart, PE teacher Melanie, and, already, they were thinking about kids. He knew if they were going to live their dreams, something had to change.

The 'Sugarman' had decided an electrician's wages and opportunities were what they needed.

"I know lots of people who would love to change jobs," says the 24-year-old,"and they can't because of financial responsibilities."

The problem for the qualified fitter was finding an employer who would give him a start. That came in the shape of Electro Group, an ETU-sponsored company established to train the next generation of electrical tradesmen.

Two years into his time, he is confident the gamble will pay off.

It has meant going from running jobs as a tradesman to becoming an offsider again but that was part of the deal.

"I'd had a fair bit of exposure to sparkies as a fitter and I was very interested and wanted a dig at it," he explains. "I'm enjoying it."

He and Melanie intend using his Australian electrician's license to underwrite their travels around the globe. The qualification is recognised in the UK, New Zealand and Canada, useful bases for their planned travels.

The problem for Sugumaran was finding an employer willing to give an apprentice a start.

Electro Group places him and 300 other apprentices with different employers for short periods, and organises theoretical training through associated company, Electro Skills.

The sister organisations occupy the same complex at Rhodes, on the shores of Homebush Bay, across from Olympic Park.

The building is cavernous. It houses computer labs, electrical and metal workshops, a conference hall and competition space rigged up for Skills Olympics. There is even an imitation multi-level building to simulate telephone installation, not to mention space out the front to kick a footy around.

The program has placed Sugumaran with five separate companies, introducing him to housing construction, instrumentation, control and electrics in gas.

He enjoys learning the tricks of different tradesmen.

"There are always different ways of doing things," says Sugumaran, "it allows you to be creative."

He is one of 174 apprentices doing their time with Electro Group in Sydney.

Another, James McIlwrath, appreciates the links the company has with the ETU.

The fourth-year apprentice says he has a friend doing time with another organisation who faces "terrible" working conditions, and has never earned EBA rates.

"My mate said to me 'What's fares and travel?' when I mentioned them once," says McIlwrath "then I told him about site allowance and he almost shit himself."

McIlwrath started his apprenticeship with electric motor maker Fasco, but was laid off when the company moved its operation to Thailand.

"It was not very challenging at Fasco, sometimes we would be washing lights because there was nothing to do," he said. "The good thing about this place is you learn."

Trade Deficit

Australia faces a skills crisis as slimmed-down governments abandon responsibilities for trades training.

Not so long ago, thousands of electrical tradesmen would come out of local and state government workshops every year. In the 1970s, outfits like State Rail and Sydney City Council would each offer opportunities to 400 youngsters every year.

The private sector keenly snapped up the finished product.

But with the rush to privatise government enterprises in the 1980s came bean counters who transformed apprentices from investments into costs.

The result is an estimated national shortage of 250,000 apprentices across all trades in the next decade.

The Electrical Trades Union saw the trend coming in the early-90s and created Electro Group with the sole business of employing apprentices.

The non-profit company sends apprentices to "host" employers for periods of a few weeks to 12 months in an attempt to familiarise them with different sectors of the industry.

The concept was so successful another business, Electro Skills which is a Registered Training Organisation, was formed to teach apprentices their theory.

Together, they guide apprentices through theoretical and practical aspects of the trade - able to dovetail work and study because of their close association.

CEO, Norm Cahill, says Electro Skills goes beyond TAFE to offer a "wholistic" learning environment that includes remedial training and seminars on money management and workplace safety.

Electro Group might pay students to study in a final week before exams, while Electro Skills can rearrange class times and exam dates to suit apprentices commitments with host employers.

"If they show the intent we'll bend over backwards to help the students," says Cahill.

"Most employers would show apprentices the door if they acted up because of problems at home or because of debts but we work out ways to help, often with the help of ETU organisers."

By the same token Cahill is happy to "read them their fortune" if attitude or performance becomes a problem.

Cahill believes Electro Skills which has trained over 6000 people in trades and post trades studies in its nine operating years is ensuring the future of the industry and the financial security of licensed sparkies.

"We are future proofing this industry against the conservative and short sighted views of the past," he says.

The heart of the mission though is education and it is clear both Cahill and training manager, Mike Horne, get satisfaction out of their jobs..

"There is no greater joy than seeing someone come in as a kid and come out a competent tradesperson," Horne says.

Learn more about Electro Skills and Electro Group at


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