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Talking point: Industry joins forces to fight Queensland licensing plans

Refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) industry associations are banding together to fight a proposed mechanical services licence for Queensland which could circumvent the RAC industry in favour of plumbing.

The Queensland Government is considering a licence model based on the current Victorian model which utilises plumbing as the industry base, rather than the RAC sector.

This represents a fundamental shift from RAC to plumbing in Queensland, as the work described in the ‘scope of works’ of the proposed licence is only undertaken by RAC technicians.

As it stands, a plumbing apprenticeship would not deliver the outcomes consistent with the scope of works of the licence.

Indeed, the skill sets are incompatible and are likely to deliver substandard outcomes.

The entire industry is united in opposition to the proposed plan with the Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC), the Australian Refrigeration Association (ARA), the Australian Refrigeration Mechanics Association (ARMA), the Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH), Refrigerants Australia (RA), the Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association (AMCA), Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association of Australia (AREMA) and the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (RACCA) have all made submissions to the Queensland Government.

ARC CEO, Glenn Evans, described the proposal as baffling because Council of Australian Government (COAG) only recently reviewed state licence schemes.

“Following the review, COAG determined that the current national ARCTick licence provided the greatest net benefit for industry of any RAC related scheme,” he said.

“There also appears to be no opportunities for enhanced labour mobility or the removal of unnecessary regulations – the cornerstones of good regulation.

“The Queensland mechanical licence proposal has the potential to change the structure of the RAC industry in that state, duplicate licence types and contribute to training issues,” Evans said.

“Whatever way you look at it, it's a bad deal for industry.”

While a final decision by the Queensland Government is still months away, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Public Works said the review was overdue and necessary.

“The review is necessary to simplify and modernise the current licensing framework,” the spokesperson said.

“There are currently four grades of licences and in excess of 88 licence classes, resulting in more than 200 types of licences that can be issued by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission.

“There has been extensive consultation with industry and stakeholders throughout 2016 and early 2017.”

As part of the proposal, the government is seeking to introduce a new mechanical services licence class, similar to the current Victorian model.

A mechanical services licence exists in Victoria and Tasmania. The minimum technical qualification to obtain the Victorian Mechanical Services licence is completion of a Certificate III course relating to plumbing work, which includes approved competency units, assessment and experience requirements.

Following is a roundup of industry feedback and recommendations included in submissions to the licensing review.

In its submission, the Australian Refrigeration Mechanics Association (ARMA) said that the current parameters for the Victorian licensing model is “fundamentally” flawed since the introduction of Certificate II which has allowed plumbers to work outside their trade.

ARMA said HVACR needs to be recognised as a specialised trade and only technically competent HVACR tradespeople should be working within the trade. “ARMA recommends that the Department of Housing and Public Works abandon any new mechanical service licence class regulated by the plumbing industry in relation to any HVACR work, and restore the requirement that only trade qualified refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics holding a Certificate III qualification or higher work in the HVACR field.”

In its submission, the Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating(AIRAH) pointed out the proposal does not recognise existing VET Refrigeration and Air conditioning qualifications or the national ARCTick licence scheme for handling synthetic refrigerants.

“Requiring RAC technicians to acquire certification in plumbing in order to be licensed for mechanical services is inappropriate. Work such as installing and commissioning air conditioning systems, testing air conditioning systems for leaks, repairing, altering and maintaining air conditioning systems and components and the safe handling of refrigerant gases is specialised work requiring training and apprenticeship.

This work is usually undertaken by RAC technicians not plumbers. If accepted, this new mechanical services licence proposal for Queensland would mean that almost all existing skilled RAC technicians would not qualify for a license and only plumbing technicians that are unskilled and untrained in refrigeration will qualify to be licensed for this work.”

The Victorian government's licensing review is being undertaken by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Victorian Building Authority.

The department is now considering all feedback received during the consultation period, which will inform a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) and new draft regulations to be released for public comment in late 2017.

Like Queensland, Victoria does not recognise HVACR as a stand-alone profession, instead delegating RAC technicians to the plumbing trade. As a result industry will be working hard to push for change throughout the consultation process.

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