A ballot of Essential Energy employees across NSW will decide whether staff at the publicly-owned electricity network take industrial action over a proposal by the company to slash 800 regional jobs and remove key workplace conditions.
The Fair Work Commission has approved the vote, with the Australian Electoral Commission this week distributing ballot papers to thousands of Essential Energy employees.
Essential Energy staff have until March 22 to vote on a range of protest actions, including work stoppages of between one and 72 hours in length, and bans on a range of work practices including overtime, training, paperwork, and the use of computers, mobile phones and other technologies.
The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent Essential Energy workers, said the industrial action vote was a direct response to a new workplace agreement, proposed by Essential Energy management, that would see the forced sacking of 800 regional employees and allow an unlimited number of further job cuts after June 2018.
The unions said the proposal would also freeze wages for two years, ban employees who are made redundant from applying for other jobs with the company for two years, halve the amount workers are paid when called in during emergencies, and remove a requirement that private contractors doing outsourced work must pay appropriate wages and conditions.
“Industrial action is always a last resort,” ETU assistant secretary Neville Betts said. “Our members would much rather negotiate a fair outcome that protects regional jobs.
“While we remain committed to negotiations, workers were left with few alternatives after Essential Energy circulated a draft agreement that includes massive job cuts, cuts to wages and conditions, and provisions that allow work to be outsourced to unscrupulous contractors.
“If workers vote in support of industrial action, a range of work stoppages or other protest actions could begin as early as next month.”
USU energy manager Scott McNamara said the NSW Government was responsible for a slash-and-burn mentality at the publicly owned company, which put the future of regional jobs and services at risk.
“The Nationals told voters in rural and regional NSW they wouldn’t privatise Essential Energy, but what they didn’t tell them was that they would slash regional jobs and services after the election,” he said.
“Cuts to jobs and conditions inevitably impact on local communities, while also undermining safety, network reliability and response times following emergencies and natural disasters.
“It’s time for Essential Energy to abandon their attacks on thousands of loyal workers and instead negotiate in good faith to reach a fair workplace agreement.”