Essential Energy employees who were told to no longer come to work earlier this month have received a two month reprieve, with the Fair Work Commission confirming that interim orders requiring the company to overturn that decision will continue until late December.
The FWC yesterday set down a hearing date of December 18 to finalise the case, with Commissioner Leigh Johns indicating that the final decision on whether Essential Energy can direct employees not to attend work will be delivered before Christmas.
Unions launched the legal challenge earlier this month after Essential Energy told more than 230 workers across regional NSW that they should no longer attend work from the following Monday.
The Electrical Trades Union said that the FWC’s interim orders, which prevented Essential Energy from directing employees not to attend work and required the company to provide “meaningful work” for those affected workers, would now continue for at least two months.
“Earlier this month, Essential Energy told more than 230 workers across the state that they were no longer to attend work, with just 72 hours’ notice,” Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said.
“We immediately challenged that decision, arguing that it not only contravened the existing workplace agreement, but it also breached Essential Energy’s own redeployment policy.
“The FWC shared the concerns of unions, issuing interim orders that prevent Essential Energy from sending workers home.
“The matter will be arbitrated in the week before Christmas, providing a binding decision that will decide whether Essential Energy can direct these employees not to attend work.”
Mr Butler said that there remained ongoing concerns about Essential Energy segregating and ostracising employees, including by banning some staff from attending workplace meetings and telling them they are no longer to sit near colleagues.
“The ETU has serious concerns about the welfare of Essential Energy’s workforce as a result of the significant and sustained attack being carried out by management, with the support of the NSW Government,” he said.
“These actions seem to be part of a concerted effort to try to demoralise, bully and intimidate these workers into simply quitting their jobs.
“In more than 30 years as an advocate for workers I have never seen this kind of ruthless behaviour from an employer let alone a publicly owned and government operated company.
“Earlier this year it was revealed that publicly-owned power companies — including Essential Energy — had spent more than $5 million of taxpayer’s money on expensive lawyers to attack their own workers. From what we have seen in recent months, that figure is now likely approaching $10 million.”
The Fair Work Commission has also set aside a full week dedicated to bringing Essential Energy and unions together through a process of interest based bargaining in an attempt to resolve a range of workplace issues currently in dispute.
“The ETU is approaching this process with an open mind and we are hopeful that this intervention will provide the circuit breaker that the workers so desperately need.” said Mr Butler.