American construction contractor Bechtel has complained that more than half of Australian welders have failed their welding tests after having applied for work on the Curtis Island LNG projects.
The low success rate of local workers has compelled Bechtel to announce another increase to the number of 457 visa foreign workers required on the island.
Bechtel general manager in Gladstone Kevin Berg said up to 50 specialist welders and pipefitters have been hired from overseas on 457 visas, with a further 30 surface tension welders still needed.
Mr Berg said the shortage applied to workers skilled in surface tension transfer welding
“We're pretty close to having the numbers that we need on the most advanced of the projects, QCLNG, and we believe that by the end of April we will have the last 30 or so that we require,” Berg said.
Bechtel has said the last 30 are expected to be a mix of workers from the UK and Ireland and local employees.
Further concerns have been raised by the Australian Workers and Manufacturing Union (AMWU) about the nature of testing carried out in the hiring process for specialist welders in Australia.
The AMWU is currently investigating the validity of Bechtel’s welding competence tests, and querying the high failure rate.
AMWU Queensland state secretary Rohan Webb said the union was very concerned about the level of failure Bechtel had quoted for the weld tests.
“When Bechtel made the announcement in regard to the high failure rates, about three or four weeks ago, we were outraged,” Webb said.
“There’s no actual statistics given, we’ve been in discussion with Bechtel over the last couple of weeks in regards to their procedures in the weld tests, asking them to investigate and provide statistical data on what the fail rates really were, location by location.”
“Members have raised issues about the tests, especially in the Gladstone facility, but we’re not at liberty to go too far into it, we’ve raised these issues directly with Bechtel and we don’t want to jeopardise that ongoing investigation with regard to some of the allegations made.”
“We’ve asked them to investigate that and come back to us.”
Mr Webb said there appears to be a genuine industry shortage of specialist welders and called on employers and government to take immediate action in creating more training opportunities.
AMWU Gladstone organiser Phil Golby said a reputable local firm was doing the testing for Bechtel but there was a possibility some judgements were being made outside of technical ability.
“There seems to be one standard for Gladstone and another for other places. I know of some members who have failed these welding tests who are experienced with a record of good quality work,” he said.
“Workers from the UK, Ireland and NZ seem to be getting straight in.”