Union at war over bid to import workers

One of the nation's biggest unions has been engulfed by in-fighting following discussions to import US electrical workers.

The Victorian head of one of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has lashed out at the organisation's federal secretary over a proposal he says describes as a ''sickening betrayal of present and future'' union members.

News Limited reported today the ETU, which is known at the national level as the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union, was in negotiations to import up to 2000 skilled workers from the US on temporary visas.

The move by the federal office, in conjunction with the Queensland branch, comes as union leaders step up  campaigns to protect Australian jobs against an influx of foreign labour.

ETU Victorian secretary Dean Mighell said he had not been consulted on the secret negotiations and he accused the union's federal secretary Peter Tighe of conspiring with the Queensland branch to deliver profits to companies closely associated with it.

Mr Tighe has reportedly held talks with employers in the US in May about importing up to 2000 electrical workers to Australia to work on local resource projects.

Future Skills International was also involved in the talks with USA company Bechtel,  a company that deals in liquified natural gas facilities in Queensland.

Mr Mightell said it was the discussions between BecTel and Future Skills that Mr Mighell took most exception, as the latter had ties with the Queensland branch of ETU and stood to profit from the deal.

"The Victorian Branch was not consulted on this disgraceful betrayal of existing and future Australian electrical workers and apprentices, rejects it totally and wants no part of it at all," Mr Mighell said.

''Instead of looking offshore for workers the number one priority should be finding employment for Australian workers and training apprentices for the future.''

He said the mining sector was lagging in apprentice numbers and efforts were needed to boost training rather than looking overseas to stop the gap.

"Every week we see more job losses...so the National Office should be fighting for Australian jobs – especially in mining – rather than engaging in their short sighted off shore recruitment scheme,'' Mr Mighell said.

"How do I tell my members in Victoria, where they are losing jobs in droves, that there are no jobs, because theNational ETU sold them offshore for $2,000 each?"

ETU assistant national secretary Allen Hickstold the National Times the negotiations were not as advanced as they had been portrayed in the initial report in The Australian.

There has been some discussions about what some of the requirements to coming to this company are,'' he said.

''The way that they have written it up it appears they have been out there trying to recruit people from overseas.

''We are not going to back away from the fact that we've had discussions. Peter Tighe has been overseas and talked to them. but that doesn't mean we are advocating for it, we just want to be best placed for if it does happen.''

The Gillard Government was forced into setting up a "jobs board" in May to ensure Australian workers could have the first bite at job vacancies in the resource sector after the unions mounted a furious campaign in response to a decision to allow mining magnate Gina Rinehart to import 1700 foreign workers using an "enterprise migration agreement.''

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