Bruce Humphrys has no time to waste.
As On the Job catches up with him, the Queensland sparky and proud Electrical Trades Union (ETU) member is readying his van along with a team of electricians to head to flood ravaged Gympie.
Bruce and his fellow electricians are taking part in Operation Energise, an all-of-industry volunteer initiative to provide electrical services to the most vulnerable people in flood zones.
“The ETU puts out a call on the local radio, in papers, social media, and people can call in if they need our help,” Bruce says.
“We work off a spreadsheet that we share through Dropbox so we can just go and find the jobs. We get them finished. Move on to next one,” he says.
Operation Energise is driven by core Union values of acting together as a community to help and protecting those that need it most.
The project began amidst the devastation of cyclone Larry in Innisfail in 2007.
Since that time, ETU members and other workers have joined with industry and suppliers in emergency response actions across numerous natural disaster situations.
ETU Queensland and Northern Territory branch President Keith McKenzie tells On the Job that getting the power back on for those battered by natural disaster is the first step to recovery.
“For senior citizens and community groups and other vulnerable people, we’ll go to their homes, we’ll do the work and include the assessment to make sure its electrically safe,” he says.
“We can put a power point in with a switchboard which means they can plug in an extension cord to have a bar fridge or a toaster or a bed lamp so they can read stories to their kids at night for the next few months.”
Keith McKenzie says Operation Energise is all about trying to restore a sense of control back in the lives of people who have had their world washed away in the blink of an eye.
“It’s the little things that can really make a difference. People are without power and can’t afford to get it fixed and it might just be so they can charge up an electrical wheelchair.”
It’s about helping community groups in areas that have been completely impacted, where houses have been shattered.
If we can get the local dance school up and running or tennis facility or hockey field or scout group going it gives people a bit of hope.
ETU Queensland and Northern Territory branch President
Bruce Humphrys and his team are mindful of how crisis situations can embed layers of trauma into an individual.
“We spoke at our briefing this morning about this. You walk into someone’s yard and you see all this stuff that to your mind looks like rubbish,” he says.
“Then you realise that this is everything that belongs to that person, and it is just sitting in their yard.”
“It’s no good anymore and it’s still theirs and it’s very heartbreaking for them.”
“In some ways, I think floods are worse than other disasters because it’s all sitting in front of them all day, every day, for days on end,” Bruce says.
Keith McKenzie sees Operation Energise as a way for union members to live their values.
This dedication from Unions disrupts the depiction of unions and their members found in tabloid media.
“The right-wing media like to use that tired cliché about Union thugs,” he says.
“If you replace the word ‘union’ with ‘worker’ you know what we are about.”
“We do a lot of great things… social justice campaigns, we support the homeless when we can [and] we certainly fight for workers’ wages and conditions.”
“Workers and unions – it’s just the solidarity of everyone sticking together,” Keith says.
As Bruce Humphrys gets in his truck and heads out to Gympie for another day helping people get the power back on, he sets his sights on the human impact of his work.
“It’s making sure that we get together so that the whole of society can move on and no one gets left behind,” he says.
“When you get to communities, they’re already they’re already getting in together and getting things done.”
“Our part is showing them that even some of the tradies can get in and help out,” Bruce says.
“What really got me is that when this one happened, my son actually come to me and asked if there was any chance of him coming along.”
“Because he would like to start doing what dad does.”