ETU Media Releases

ETU Media Releases

24hr Media Enquiries: 0408 231 858

Selling rural & regional electricity network to fund CBD infrastructure morally bankrupt

Paul Lister - Friday, December 06, 2013

Selling the ‘poles and wires’ NSW electricity network to fund a second rail crossing of Sydney Harbour would be morally bankrupt, essentially forcing higher prices and poorer service standards on millions of people in rural and regional parts of the state to fund infrastructure they would never use, according to the Electrical Trades Union.

Revelations today that Transport for NSW is working on the concept plan for a second Sydney Harbour rail crossing — a tunnel from Chatswood to the CBD that would cost up to $15 billion — and suggestions that it would need to be funded through the sale of the state’s publicly owned electricity poles and wires, should ring alarm bells for regional communities.

The ETU said the revelations were made more concerning by Premier Barry O'Farrell’s continued refusal to categorically rule out any privatisation plan’s beyond the 2015 election.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said Mr O’Farrell should follow the lead of his Queensland counterpart Campbell Newman, who this week formally ruled out any sale of his own electricity distribution companies.

“In Queensland, the Liberal National Party has seen that an essential service like electricity is best kept in public hands, but in NSW we continue to see the idea of privatisation promoted from some elements within government as a magic source of infrastructure funding,” Mr Butler said.

“Any sale of the electricity poles and wires would be bad for the community, leading to higher prices, reduced service delivery and massive job losses across regional NSW as new owners sought to maximise profits, but a sale to fund infrastructure projects that only benefit people in the Sydney CBD would be outrageous.

“Suggesting that millions of people across NSW should see a vital, publicly-owned essential service sold off, all so a single piece of infrastructure that will benefit only a few can be built, is morally bankrupt.”

Mr Butler said the sale also made no economic sense, with the electricity network currently delivering huge profits to the people of NSW that already go towards funding infrastructure and community services.

“Last month the NSW Auditor General revealed the NSW publicly owned electricity network businesses had delivered their largest dividends in history to the people of New South Wales,” he said.

“Total government income from the past twelve months from Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid will exceed $2.7 billion, every cent of which flows into the government coffers to help fund public services such as our hospitals, schools and roads.

“It’s time the O’Farrell Government followed the lead of their Queensland colleagues, accepted the benefits of retaining these assets in public ownership, and formally ruled out any sale — especially a sale designed to fund inequitable infrastructure like a second harbour rail crossing.”

ETU calls for defibrillator on every truck to save lives

Paul Lister - Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The NSW Government has been urged to facilitate a state-wide roll out of defibrillators across the publicly-owned electricity network following several preventable deaths and near-misses in recent years.

The Electrical Trades Union has met with NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher to present him with detailed, independent research that has found portable defibrillators provide an effective, affordable, reliable opportunity to prevent accidental deaths among the thousands of workers who carry out dangerous maintenance and repair work, often on live wires.

The union has also asked the Minister to convene an industry taskforce to develop a consistent approach to the roll out of defibrillators in all four publicly-owned companies in the electricity sector.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the campaign had been given greater urgency following the death of electrical worker Trevor Tooze on September 2, while workin  g on the mid-North Coast.

“Trevor was an experienced Essential Energy employee, working on an upgrade of high-voltage power lines, when an electric shock stopped his heart,” Mr Butler said.

“His colleagues performed CPR until an ambulance arrived, but because of the remoteness of the work site it took more than half an hour for help to get there.

“The first thing the paramedics did was place a defibrillator on him, but unfortunately it had been too long, and they were unable to resuscitate him.

“A portable defibrillator on his work truck would have allowed him to receive treatment within minutes, which the expert research says would have greatly increased his chances of survival.”

Mr Butler said while some companies are trialling a small number of defibrillators in the field, the ETU is campaigning for a broader roll out and a more consistent approach across the entire sector.

“Our industry has seen several preventable workplace deaths from cardiac arrest in recent years, with the remote nature of much of our work drastically reducing the chances of survival,” he said.

“Because we are often working on live power lines, including high voltage cables, workers in our industry are at substantially higher risk than most people in the Australian community.

“Electricity is the sixth biggest workplace killer in Australia, and even a small shock can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

“But unlike other workplace accidents, quick action and access to a portable defibrillator provides the chance to prevent these deaths, with colleagues actually able to bring a co-worker back to life.

“With each machine costing as little as $3000 to install, we believe it is a tiny price to pay to potentially save a life.”

The ETU commissioned independent, detailed research, which found that installing defibrillators on electricity network trucks is not only practical and affordable, it offers the potential to reduce deaths in the electricity industry.

“We know that defibrillators have the potential to save lives, which is why we are calling for them to be installed on each and every work truck across the network,” Mr Butler said.

“Most importantly, we want a consistent approach across the sector, so all workers have additional protection from the danger of electric shock, not just those at certain companies.”

A full copy of the independent report commissioned by the ETU can be downloaded here.

Electricity network brings home the bacon for NSW taxpayers

Paul Lister - Monday, November 04, 2013

The release of the NSW Auditor General’s report on the NSW electricity sector has revealed the ongoing growth in the massive dividends the people of New South Wales receive from the publicly owned electricity network businesses, according to the Electrical Trades Union.

The Auditor General’s report identified dividends from the four publicly-owned network businesses — Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid — had grown to almost a billion dollars last year, before other revenue such as tax and interest paid to the NSW Government was taken into account.

“The NSW Auditor General’s report demonstrates that the publicly owned electricity networks remain an extremely valuable public asset that benefits the people of NSW and should not be privatised,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“In the past twelve months, income from the NSW electricity networks is likely to exceed $2.5 billion in total government revenue, once dividends, tax equivalents and government interest are taken into account.

“Rather than go into the p  ockets of a potential foreign owner as profit, this money is currently flowing into government coffers to help fund public services such as our hospitals, schools and roads.

“This is a great outcome for the people of NSW, especially as independent polling has previously shown the public overwhelmingly do not want to see our electricity network sold off.”

Mr Butler said the Auditor General’s report highlighted the economic weakness of the NSW Treasurer’s support for privatisation.

“On one hand we have Treasurer Mike Baird, taking every opportunity to talk up privatising the NSW electricity network, while on the other hand he is using the financial windfall from these companies to claim the budget is back in the black,” Mr Butler said.

“It’s hypocrisy at its best.

“One thing is crystal-clear from the NSW Auditor General’s report, and that is the NSW electricity businesses continue to make a valuable contribution to the bottom line of the state.

“The quicker the O’Farrell Government understands the value of these assets and commits to public ownership and operation the better off NSW residents will be.”

Premier challenged to categorically rule out sale of electricity network

Paul Lister - Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Electrical Trades Union has challenged NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to categorically rule out the privatisation of the NSW electricity network, including the publicly owned power companies Ausgrid, TransGrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the public were confused by the mixed messages coming from the NSW Government on the issue, and voters deserved to know with certainty what the plans are for the future ownership of this valuable and strategic public asset.

“The people of NSW deserve to know exactly what the NSW Government’s long-term plans are for the publicly-owned NSW electricity network,” Mr Butler said.

“This shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Either the Premier supports keeping the publicly-owned-and-operated electricity network, the poles and wires that run down every street in the state, in public hands, or he doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.

“Instead, the people of NSW are left with Treasurer Mike Baird repeatedly advocating for his ideological love-child of electricity privatisation.

“Each time he is followed by the Premier who says the NSW Government has ‘no plans’ to privatise the electricity network.

“We all know that plans change, which is why the Premier must emphatically and categorically rule out privatisation of the electricity network as long as he remains in the top job.

“What the newspapers and politicians won’t tell the public is that the electricity network companies currently provide $2.5 billion every single year that helps pay for our hospitals and schools, not to mention the $18 billion in debt which these company’s currently owe.

“There is no river of gold attached the publicly owned NSW electricity network. This debate is being driven by ideologues and vested interests who would rather see large foreign owned companies benefit at the expense of NSW residents and taxpayers.

“It’s time to put the rumour and innuendo to rest and the only way this can happen is if Barry O’Farrell formally rules out any privatisation of the NSW electricity network while he is Premier.”

Central West to be hit by massive job losses

Paul Lister - Monday, October 28, 2013

The Central West has been hit with two announcements that will deliver massive job losses for Bathurst and Orange.

Appliance manufacturer Electrolux based at Orange yesterday announced that they plan to close their production facility by 2016, which will result in the loss of 500 jobs.

This announcement comes hot on the heals of another announcement by food manufacturer Simplot, who's brands include Edgell, Birdseye, Leggo's and Chiko among others.

Simplot announced on Thursday the loss of 110 jobs at their Kelso plant after the company announced that they would reduce local operations, bringing the total job losses for the Central West to more than 600 in just two days.

Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Secretary, Steve Butler, said that these announcements would have a devastating impact on the region.

"What we have here are more than 600 well paying, highly skilled local jobs being slashed.”

"We all know that the manufacturing sector is under intense pressure from global competition and the high Australian dollar but it is also clear that all levels of government must do more,” said Mr. Butler.

"Private companies make these decisions based on profit and their ability to compete, the simple fact is that Australian manufacturing can not compete with places like China, Malaysia and India so we have to look at other ways to protect these jobs.”

"Our government like to talk about "Free Trade" deals with places like China and the United States but what we need is "Fair Trade" where locally made products can compete on price and where local jobs are viable and protected." Mr. Butler said.

"I don't believe things will change, unless our Government change their approach to manufacturing in Australia.  If this does not happen we will continue to bleed good quality jobs like those being lost in the Central West." Mr. Butler said.

"As representatives of the workforce, the ETU and other unions will obviously working closely with these companies to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved from what is a dire set of circumstances.”

"Our primary concern will be to save as many jobs as possible, help find work for those who lose their jobs and to make sure all entitlements are paid."

Warning of Snowy Hydro privatisation threat proved correct

Paul Lister - Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Electrical Trades Union’s fears about possible privatisation of Snowy Hydro, first raised in Cooma last year, have been proved correct after the Commonwealth Government yesterday announced a wide-ranging Commission of Audit to examine asset sales.

The ETU has today called on community leaders in Cooma and surrounding areas to join the campaign to ensure Snowy Hydro remains protected as a publicly-owned asset.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the announcement confirmed that attempts to discredit his earlier warning that an Abbott Government would consider privatisation of Snowy Hydro as a “union scare campaign” were completely untrue.

“I was gob-smacked last year to have our concerns about Snowy Hydro privatisation labelled a scare campaign by some in the local community,” Mr Butler said.

“Treasurer Joe Hockey’s actions yesterday have left no doubt in my mind that the Commonwealth Government is considering the sale of Snowy Hydro as a part of their Commission of Audit.

“The only way this can be stopped is if the community stand united and act now in opposing any privatisation attempt.

“If the community remain silent, I believe Snowy Hydro will be sold.

“So today I am calling on local community leaders to recognise that privatisation of Snowy Hydro is a real threat and for those people to join our community campaign to make sure Snowy Hydro remains in public ownership with a head office in Cooma.”

Mr Butler said the NSW Commission of Audit handed down twelve months ago had recommended the sale of Snowy Hydro, so yesterday’s announcement that the Commonwealth Government will also be examining asset sales rang alarm bells.

“Now that the Liberals and Nationals are in government in NSW, Victoria and Canberra, the stage has been set for wholesale privatisation of the jointly owned Snowy Hydro,” he said.

“One thing is for certain, and that is the ETU will fight any planned privatisation of Snowy Hydro to make sure this iconic public asset remains in public ownership and is operated to benefit the local community and Australians more broadly.”

ETU Rejects "Social Privatisation" Call

Paul Lister - Friday, October 04, 2013

Electrical union leaders across the country have rejected outright calls by Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes for unions to embrace asset sales, saying past experience proves the move would be bad for consumers, workers and governments.

In an expansive essay, published today, Mr Howes claimed those opposed to the privatisation of assets were “reactionary”, “ideological” and stubbornly clinging to “sacred cows”, instead arguing that the union movement and the Labor Party should embrace asset sales and social privatisation.

Electrical Trades Union representatives from around the country have challenged those claims, saying the experiences of millions of Australians who have endured the sale of community assets over the past two decades have been negative, with higher prices, poorer services, and fewer jobs.

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said the majority view of union members, as well as the Australian community, has consistently been that essential services are best owned by government.

“Our union has a long, consistent, principled position against the privatisation of essential services, and it is a position that has been reaffirmed time and again by our members across Australia,” Mr Hicks said.

“In our industry, we have experienced first hand the impact of electricity network sales in Victoria and South Australia.

“The results have been bad for consumers, with price increases and service reductions. Workers have been hit with cost-cutting and job losses. Governments have also lost long-term, sustainable income streams that previously funded things like schools and hospitals.

“South Australia now has the highest electricity prices in the country as a direct result of privatisation, while in Victoria 173 people lost their lives due to lack of maintenance on the privately owned electricity network causing the horrific Victorian Bushfires.

“Perhaps worst of all, the community no longer has a recourse at the ballot box when these sorts of problems occur, because private owners only have to answer to their shareholders.
 “While some may have a vision about the benefits of ‘social privatisation’, experience around Australia tells us that selling off essential government-owned services always adversely impacts the community.”

ETU branches in NSW, Queensland and Victoria have also rejected the push.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said governments should be investing in income generating assets to build national wealth, not privatising them.

“It is unbelievable that foreign governments in China and Singapore see the value in investing in infrastructure such as electricity, ports and water to build wealth for their nations, but our own governments prefer to privatise them,” he said.

“When you sell an income generating asset, whether it’s to a super fund, foreign owner or a rich individual, what you are doing is making Australia and the Australian people poorer.

“Many public assets return stable and reliable financial dividends to government that help fund schools, hospitals and transport, as well as providing an asset base against which to borrow to fund other infrastructure.”

ETU Queensland and Northern Territory secretary Peter Simpson said current assets sales being undertaken by Coalition Governments across the country were short sighted and unsustainable.

“Right now we have a raft of Liberal National Governments undertaking a privatisation agenda across NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory,” he said.

“The problem is that once these assets are sold, the government loses a valuable long term income stream, creating a future funding crisis.

“The fact is, selling off public assets is short sighted and unsustainable.”

Mr Hicks said ETU members in Victoria experienced expensive privatisation during the Kennett era and saw first-hand the destruction of an industry.

“They saw the decimation of many regional communities as a direct result of the Victorian privatisation experiment,” Mr Hicks said.

“When Jeff Kennett privatised the electricity industry in Victoria, towns like Morwell and Gippsland were destroyed. Unemployment, marriage break-ups and suicides all sky-rocketed, while local economies in regional towns were decimated, not to mention the loss of valuable trainee and apprenticeships.

“On top of this, the private owners of the Victorian electricity networks were too busy chasing profits and less interested in doing necessary maintenance, ultimately resulting in the Victorian Bushfire disaster where thousands of people lost their homes and 173 people died.

“According to our Victorian members privatisation has been a disaster, and their advice to people in other states is that you must do everything in your power to stop this from happening in your own backyard.”

Employer reported for breach of electoral laws after allegedly offering staff $100 gift to influence vote

Paul Lister - Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A western Sydney electrical contractor is being investigated by the Electoral Commissioner after allegedly attempting to bribe staff into voting for the Coalition, with employees promised a “$100 gift” if a Coalition Government is elected this weekend.

The Electrical Trades Union reported the alleged breach of the Commonwealth Electoral Act after being provided with details of the message by workers at the firm
The text message, sent last week to employees of HMP Electrical Services, was allegedly distributed on behalf of the company’s owner Edmond (Eddie) Hajar.

The message read:
“Hi Guys – As you may or may not be aware, the federal election is on Saturday, 7th of September 2013. Eddie has asked me to remind you to VOTE and to let you know that if the Liberal Government win you will all receive a $100 GIFT as employees of HMP Electrical Services. Aren’t we lucky to live in a democratic country! Kindest regards, Nesska (for Eddie)”

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the union had received legal advice that the text message breached bribery provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. In particular, it breached provisions of section 326 which states: “A person shall not, with the intention of influencing or affecting any vote of another person, give or confer, or promise or offer to give or confer, any property or benefit of any kind to that other person”.

Mr Butler said the message, sent by an employer who wields a position of power over his staff, was a concerning attempt to influence the votes of workers that live in some of the most marginal seats in the country.

“Their employer has not only attempted to influence their vote by making it very clear how he expects them to vote this weekend, but he has then backed that up with a promised financial incentive,” Mr Butler said.

“Employees at the company were outraged by the alleged bribery attempt, but due to the fear of reprisal from their employer they felt unable to make an official complaint, instead asking the union to ensure the case was properly investigated.

“This employer has a poor track record with his treatment of staff, with the union previously recovering unpaid wages and superannuation for staff that were owed thousands of dollars.

“This alleged bribery attempt also raises serious questions about why this employer, with his history of underpaying staff and failing to follow superannuation laws, would be so desperate to see Tony Abbott become Prime Minister.”

Macquarie Generation sale doesn’t make economic sense

Paul Lister - Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Energy unions have criticized the NSW Government for pushing ahead with the sale of Macquarie Generation, NSW’s largest supplier of electricity, in what is the latest public asset to be sold off by the Liberal National Government.

Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler said that NSW Treasurer Mike Baird was carrying on as though he has lost the plot, with Macquarie Generation the latest in a long list of privatisations, including Newcastle Port, Port Botany, Port Kembla, the Sydney desalination plant, Sydney Ferries and many smaller asset sales.

“NSW is becoming a poorer state thanks to the long list of asset sales that NSW Treasurer Mike Baird continues to preside over,” Mr Butler said.

“He’s carrying as though he has lost the plot by selling off valuable income generating assets.

“Every single asset that the NSW Government has sold to date has had one thing in common: They generate much needed income for the Government. In the case of Macquarie Generation, the company provided a dividend to taxpayers of $124 million last year alone.

“Once these assets and income streams are sold to the private sector it generally results in higher charges for the general public, a loss of income for future governments and a smaller assets base to borrow against should the need arise.

“Quite simply, the sale of Macquarie Generation doesn’t make economic sense.

“The people of NSW do not want their assets flogged off at bargain basement prices to what are likely to be foreign investors from China, Singapore or Korea.

“The assets of Macquarie Generation are valued at $2.1 billion, but the company also has debts of almost $800 million, meaning NSW taxpayers will likely lose this essential piece of infrastructure for  no more than what they would receive in dividends over the next decade if it was kept in Government hands.

“This fire sale does not make economic sense, it does not make political sense and the only people to win will be the private investors who will seek to recover costs from electricity consumers.

“The ETU, with the help of cross bench MPs, were successful in securing the jobs and conditions of the existing 600 employees for a period of four years, which have been protected through legislation.”

Taxpayers lose out in O’Farrell Government power station sell-off

Paul Lister - Friday, July 26, 2013

Energy sector unions have attacked the O’Farrell Government over today’s announcement that Mt Piper and Wallerawang power stations will be sold to Chinese-owned EnergyAustralia for $160 million, saying taxpayers have been short-changed by the deal.

The unions said Delta Electricity, the state-owned business selling the power stations, last year delivered a $52 million didivend to the state government and had a book value of $1.75 billion, while their power stations were valued at $745 million.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, who are leading a community campaign against the privatisation of the state’s electricity network, said the O’Farrell Government’s “fire sale” had now sold four power stations in just four weeks, yet delivered only $85 million for taxpayers after losses.

“What we have seen today is the O’Farrell Government sell the Mt Piper and Wallerawang power stations for a pittance, and all without putting the sale out to competitive tender,” Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“Taxpayers deserve to know that they’ve got the best deal possible, and that clearly isn’t the case with this ongoing power station sell off by the O’Farrell Government.

“Last year NSW taxpayers received $52 million from Delta Electricity — profits that came from power generation — yet the community has now lost this ongoing revenue source for a measly $160 million.

“It comes just four weeks after the sale of Eraring Energy, where a government-owned company that delivered almost $140 million in profits last year alone was sold off for a loss of $75 million.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said it was outrageous that public infrastructure would be sold without ensuring the best price was achieved for taxpayers.

“Here we have a Chinese-owned company getting a sweetheart deal from the NSW Government that delivers a profitable business at a bargain price with no open tender,” Mr Kelly said.

“Clearly it fails the most basic obligation of a government to achieves the best outcome for taxpayers.

“Our unions don’t believe that any essential public infrastructure should be sold off, but if it must occur, like anyone else in the community we’d expect to see a process where multiple buyers bid against each other, delivering the top price for taxpayers.

“This is nothing more than a fire sale that does not represent value for the people of NSW.”