The Association finds a new home

Investment in property assets was a vital move to help the Association grow in the future, and in 1969 five cottages in Kings Way, South Melbourne were purchased. However, soon after work began on the site to prepare it for the Association’s new home, they were sold to the Board of Works for a substantial pro t that then enabled the purchase of premises at 188 Batman Street, West Melbourne in 1972. Remembered for its lurid purple carpet, the offices were ideally located and had ample space to accommodate trade nights as well as a museum of plumbing artifacts and products.

The Association relocated again in 1985 to modern and extremely functional offices at 525 King Street. Plumbing Industry House would be home to the Association for the next 30 years and included large meeting rooms, a commercial display area, contractor’s offices and a library.

Training and technology

In the 1960’s, key issues faced by the Association were the lack of finance available for construction projects and the introduction of high-rise dwellings, which provided both challenges and opportunities. Further advances in technology associated with this new style of construction saw product manufacturers step up to assist with the spread of knowledge by offering training sessions to members on their new inventory.

When major changes to the education system arose in the early 1970s with the reduction of the apprenticeship from
five to four years, the threat of unskilled labour loomed. Master Plumbers continued to advocate for the need for a highly skilled workforce in this essential profession, and in 1981 the Association launched its Group Training Scheme. The Association’s longest serving employee, Vin Ebejer, was appointed in 1985 to manage the scheme which gave apprentices exposure and experience across a wide range of plumbing sectors. Its innovative approach also appealed to employers who didn’t have to commit to a four-year apprenticeship term and could boost their workforce on an as needs basis whilst the Association took care of the administration. The resulting increase in apprentices over the coming years was commended by the Minister for Employment and Training. You can read the story of Horton Poulter, a graduate of the first ever Group Training Scheme on page 40. 

Environmental focus

The environment came to the forefront of discussions in the early 70’s with the Association recognising that it must address issues relating to water and energy conservation. Later in the 1990s, a new era of environmentally conscious building design emerged requiring new products and technologies that minimised water and energy usage.

Further on in the new millennium,the Association recognised the influential role of plumbers in promoting sustainability. Master Plumbers recognised how crucial it was to position themselves at the forefront of this new era in environmentally conscious building design and launched the Climate Protection Project in 2001, later renamed the Green Plumbers Program. The project was hugely successful and won the 2006 Premier’s Business Sustainability Award in the small business category.

A watershed moment for the industry

Industrial relations was also back on the agenda for the Association during the late 60s. The proposal for a federal award resulted in a national 24 hour strike with 20,000 plumbers across the country walking off the job. The unrest did not last long though with members of the Association and the union quickly returning to an affable state. But the issue of a federal award didn’t go away and was once again an issue of contention with the trade unions in 1975. This time the Association succeeded and the Plumbing Trade Construction Agreement came into elect in 1976. It was a watershed moment for the industry. Only one association from all the states could be registered per industry, and that was Victoria.

The winds of change swept through the industry in the 1980s with new directions in education and training, shifts in government policies towards a national economy and deregulation, a decline in local manufacturing and a rise in imported goods. The Association had already realised that it would need a strong and persuasive voice in order to continue to protect its members and uphold standards in plumbing, and appointed its first Executive Director, Bernard Gardiner, in 1978.

While still hoping for compulsory registration to be introduced, in 1981the Association launched the Plumbers Guarantee Scheme, a voluntary program that provided consumers with an assurance against sub-standard work. The Scheme attracted considerable media attention with the Premier attending the launch and coverage appearing in The Age, The Herald Sun, Channel 10 and many radio stations.

Further changes to how the industry operated evolved in 1985 with the establishment of the Plumbers, Gas fitters and Drainers Board in 1985, which required all plumbers to be registered before being able to undertake any work. Master Plumbers strongly supported this move which streamlined the licensing, by laws and regulations which they had to work under. 

Strength in numbers

By 1991 the Association was one of the biggest and strongest of its kind with around 1,300 members. To celebrate the 100 year centenary a function was held at Parliament House followed by a gala dinner at the World Congress Centre.

A reorganisation of the Association followed in 1992 to better represent the specific sectors of the industry. Groups for sanitary plumbing and drainage, gas, heating, mechanical services, air conditioning, re services, asbestos, metal roofing and wall cladding groups were all established.

Deregulation was again a critical issue in the early 1990s and the Association actively campaigned for the continued regulation of the different categories of licensed plumbers that directly influenced public health and safety. The push was to adopt the Victorian model as the national standard and following the introduction of the Building Act and privatisation of the water and gas industries, the Association championed the cause for a new, modern licensing system.

To strengthen its position and voice as the leading industry body with key stakeholders, the Association took the controversial decision to formally become the national organisation. It was a huge undertaking that involved three years of court cases and invoked the anger of the other states. However, the Association could see the bene ts to its future vision and brand in having this level of national recognition.

Landmark legislation was introduced in 1996 to establish the Plumbing Industry Board which would oversee the occupational and technical regulation of plumbing. The Association strongly supported this move. Under the reforms it was now illegal for anyone not registered with the new Board to use the terms plumber, gasfittter and drainer, now protected titles be fitting of the level of expertise and skill required to carry out these tasks.

The reforms also meant that licensed plumbers and gas fitters would need to self certify their work and complete a Certificate of Compliance, as well as hold compulsory insurance. Many were concerned about what this meant for their business. The Association called a meeting of its members to discuss the issues and over 1,100 plumbers turned up – the largest meeting the Association has ever held. In response, the Association established a specialised insurance brokerage and risk management service in 1996 that was dedicated to plumbers.

In the same year the first Master Plumbers Executive Board was appointed including representatives from all sectors of the industry. The Association was working in harmony with the union in areas such as apprenticeships and training, and excellent relationships with government that were proven when then Prime Minister John Howard attended the 91st Gold Medal and Training Awards in 1998.