Name for tighter regulation of unlicensed electricians to forestall deaths
Mr Palladino said better regulation and quality education were needed but feared it would take death to trigger reform. He said it took the death of a hospital baby to improve gas valve regulation in NSW.
“Forty percent of all house fires are electric. We have to ask ourselves whether someone will die before we do anything,” he said.
He said NSW training providers received about $ 13,250 to train an apprentice electrician, a “very meager price” compared to other states that got about 40 percent more.
“In Victoria, they’re paying $ 19,800 to train an electrician. In South Australia, they’re paying $ 18,000,” he said. “We have been very lucky for many years because we have had good TAFE universities that are doing their best with resources that are currently in decline.”
New South Wales Minister for Skills and Higher Education Geoff Lee said more than 45,000 apprentices have started toll-free training since 2018.
Tom Emeleus, general manager of the National Electrical Communications Association (NECA), said some vocational training providers had issued a three certificate for electricians, “perhaps without the level of control they should have”. He said NSW should follow Victoria and Western Australia, which requires an additional independent test to qualify for a license.
A spokeswoman for NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, Kevin Anderson, said electrical systems are “tightly regulated”.
“Fair Trading will not hesitate to impose sanctions and on-site fines of up to $ 22,000 for individuals or $ 110,000 for companies doing unlicensed work,” she said.
The department said it has 72 construction officers, including 24 investigators, to verify compliance. Three are qualified electricians. There are 69,395 licensed electricians in NSW.
NECA technical advisor Grant Moorhouse said that while heavy fines can be imposed, electrical work is poorly regulated to enforce penalties for violations.
“With three electrical inspectors for all of NSW, not much happens. Without checks and balances, it’s kind of a lottery,” he said.
“Nothing will change if there is no death.”
Fair Trading sent a letter to a trader on March 1 last year warning him that he would be fined for non-licensing but that the regulator “is not currently proposing any further action”.
Justin Page, secretary of the NSW Electricity Union and ACT division, said the response was insufficient.
“Everyday people pay the costs when ‘fake Sparkies’ come to work and endanger their lives. The government is aware of the problem but has so far ignored the risks, ”he said.
In a bill on the upcoming state budget, the union warned that the use of unlicensed contractors is not adequately regulated and monitored, even on large infrastructure projects. It provided samples of advertisements for unlicensed contractors to a NSW parliamentary committee.
The ETU has urged the New South Wales government to end the use of untrained electricians and to follow Victoria’s lead by establishing an electricity regulator to oversee safety, licensing and training.
A parliamentary inquiry into the construction industry in New South Wales earlier this year recommended the establishment of a construction commission with the power to oversee all permit inspections. The Commission should “recruit additional specialist inspectors to create a more robust inspection system” for construction, electrical and plumbing work in NSW.
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Anna Patty is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald with an emphasis on higher education. She is a former workplace editor, education editor, state political reporter, and health reporter.
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