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December 2004   

Interview: Minority Report
New federal ALP industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith on the hostilities in store for the labour movement.

Industrial: Girl Power
Tim Brunero looks at how women are making their mark in a once-male dominated trade.

Unions: Made in NZ
Jim Marr looks behind the rhetoric to uncover what the Howard Government has in store for Australian workers.

History: Spirit for a Fair Go
Paddy Gorman looks at the importance of Eureka on the Australian political psyche.

Economics: Fool's Gold
Tom Bramble identifies some contradictions in Howard's economic miracle.

Politics: Worth Fighting For
One of the Left's most influential figures of the last 40 years gives his theory of power ...

Health: The Force Behind Medibank
Public health has always been a core activity for the union movement, writes Neale Towart

Legal: Robust Justice
Former ACTU executive member and textile union leader Anna Booth argues that Alternate Dispute Resolution is one way around the looming assault on union rights.

International: After the Revolution
Has China entered a post-revolutionary phase - and where will it take the world, asks James Goodman

Poetry: The Sound of Unions
Ah, the hills are alive, with The Sound of Unions, muses resident bard, David Peetz

Review: Bad Santa
Billy Bob Thornton's newest role puts the 'nick' in Saint Nicholas and reveals the Satan in Santa, writes Tara de Boehmler.


New Matilda
How Labor Lost the Plot
In his contribution to Australia's new political zine 'New Matilda' , Father Michael kelly argues the ALP is in search of a soul.

The Soapbox
Outside the Tent
Labor exile Lindsay Tanner is warning the ALP to be careful who it gets into bed with.

The Locker Room
Sons Of Beaches
Phil Doyle gets the perfect wave, and waves back

The Westie Wing
150 years since the struggle at Eureka, the fight to achieve social justice, equality and responsible government is just as vital as ever in the neo-conservative Australia, writes Ian West.

Postcard from Harare
Ken Davis, from Union Aid Abroad, on how unions are at the forefront in the battle for democracy in Zimbabwe


Moral Majority
Unions NSW is currently hosting one of the world�s great thinkers in Robert Reich; academic, commentator and Clinton labour secretary; a man with a mind as big as the dilemmas progressive politics face right now.


 Moral Crusade to Save Family

 20 Dead � Stockmarket Applauds

 Karen Gives Howard a Paint Job

 Buckeridge Bill Blocks Entry

 Casual Beach Closures

 Railworkers Scull Costa

 Racism in the Dock

 Go Home Alone � And Other Survival Tips

 Vet Beats Bullet

 Cleaners Clean Up

 Weekend Work Wiped

 Miners Go to the Movies

 Feds Attack Low Paid

 Activists What's On!

 Leadership Skills
 Not A Casey Fan
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Girl Power

Tim Brunero looks at how women are making their mark in a once-male dominated trade.

Bianca Elliott, Elizabeth Dedula, Laura Racchi and Orla Carol

It took 35 phone calls and months of frustration for Laura Racchi to realise why her apprenticeship dream was turning into a nightmare.

She couldn't understand that potential employers seemed polite, even encouraging, until she spelled out her first name. Then, one day it dawned on her.

"They obviously thought I was a boy with a girlie voice and were prepared to give me the benefit of the doubt, but when I said my name the familiar excuses came thick and fast," she said.

It was frustrating for Racchi who had worked with her electrician father and completed two months of trade training with Electro Group, at Rhodes.

She already had a job, working with Rebel Sport where she was being promoted through the ranks, but knew retailing wasn't for her.

"We did the same thing every day, there was no feeling of achievement," she said. "I would wake up dreading doing that for the rest of my life."

It wasn't until Electro Group began hiring apprentices again, in 2001, that she got a start. For the last three years she has been learning her trade at Sydney Water depots across the city.

"I've worked on installing pumping stations and been out in the field fixing motors and responding to breakdowns, as well as working on sewerage treatment plants," Racchi says.

"Now my dad says he is the proudest dad in the world, and my mum loves it too."

The 25-year-old wants to continue training and to specialise in instrumentation and industrial electronics.

"It's great to be part of a highly skilled team solving problems together," she says "Sparkies I meet always take the time to turn around and show me what they're doing."

Birds Of A Feather

Prepare for change, fellas. Women are coming into our industry in increasing numbers.

One training body, alone, has introduced a dozen females to the delights of power in the past few years and the feedback has been so encouraging it has taken to pushing the trade at girls schools.

Norm Cahill, from Electro Group, says the new faces have got there on their merits. There are no quotas or special favours on offer.

"The girls are keen because it is something they really want to do. We don't get girls who just fall into it. They are usually in the top 10 percent of our apprentices," he said.

Half a dozen young women have completed electrical apprenticeships through Electro Group and there are another six in training.

Electro Group places apprentices with 'host employers' to give them as much exposure as possible to different areas of the industry.

It has two qualified women on its books in Canberra, while Bianca Elliott, Elizabeth Dedula, Laura Racchi and Orla Carol are pursuing their trades in Sydney.

The Sydney women had one thing in common. All four said they chose electrical work over retailing because they wanted to feel they were doing something tangible.

Dedula and Carol are helping refit the old KPMG building - rewiring switchboards, putting in down lights, and wiring test panels.

"It's a good feeling when you build something. You say to yourself 'I did that, it looks good and I did it'," Dedula explains.

"You can stand in a clothes shop and sell stuff all day, but you don't feel like you're creating anything."

Carol sees her trade as a passport to overseas travel and enjoys the 'adrenaline rush' of the work.

"It's better than sitting in front of a computer all day, you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty though," she says. "The other great thing is you don't have to get all dressed up every day."

All four are encouraged by the support they get from other women. They say there is always plenty of interest when conversations turn to jobs.

"When I tell other girls I'm an apprentice sparky it makes them aware they can do it as well. It makes me feel proud," Elliott says.

"It's fun working and interacting with people all the time, it makes sitting around in an office seem so boring."

Elliot has also been encouraged by supportive workmates but, she says, if anyone chooses to make gender an issue she goes on the offensive.

"I love all the people I've worked with," Elliot says," But if they have a go at you, you just give it right back to them straight away - you have to set the rules right from the start."

Electro Group contracts for work around the city and needs the support of customers to stay afloat. Cahill says the response to girl power has been very encouraging.

"I guess the girls that come here are pretty committed. It's a big decision for them to make," Cahill says.

"They are the sort of people who will get in and have a go. I was talking to one employer recently who was telling me about work that had to be done in a cramped, dirty space and he said the girl was the first volunteer."

And there is little question that they have been welcomed by male workmates, as well. You can't generate the sort of enthusiasm these women have for their work if you spend your life battling for acceptance.

Rachhi says she gets particular satisfaction from being part of a team that works to solve problems together.

"Sparkies I meet always take the time to turn around and show me what they are doing. It's how you learn," she says.

Women In NSW Trades

* Of the 53,024 electrical licence holders in NSW, 185 are women.

* Of 4537 apprentices studying to be sparky's 48 are women.

* Of 1006 apprentices studying to be fridgy's, four are women.

* Of 408 apprentices studying to be liney's, five are women.

* Of 140 apprentices studying to be elec fitters, two are women.

* Despite a 1978 goal the construction work force of 2000 would be one-quarter female, today's reality is 2.7 percent.

* Electro Group has trained five female sparkies. Eight are currently training.


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