In an unprecedented legal attack, NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy this afternoon filed legal proceedings seeking to terminate a range of agreements and policies covering thousands of power workers across the state.
The move to terminate an existing workplace agreement, along with policies covering redundancy provisions, staff redeployments, and salary maintenance, is the first attempt by a publicly-owned corporation to use a controversial legal precedent — set last year — to strip away wages and conditions.
Documents filed with the Fair Work Commission, signed off by Essential Energy CEO Gary Humphreys, confirm that existing job protections and conditions would be lost, with staff instead receiving lower pay and conditions under the Award.
The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which together represent Essential Energy workers, said the move to tear up the agreement — the week a ballot asking staff whether they support taking industrial action opens — was nothing more than an attempt to intimidate the workforce.
“This is an unprecedented attack by a publicly-owned organisation on its own workers,” USU energy manager Scott McNamara said.
“Either the NSW Government is behind this attempt to carry out unfettered job cuts in rural and regional NSW, or management have gone completely rogue.
“If Essential Energy succeeds in having the existing workplace agreement torn up, thousands of jobs could be cut across NSW, while wages and conditions for the remaining workforce would be slashed.”
ETU assistant secretary Neville Betts called on rural and regional MPs to demand urgent action by the Baird Government to have Essential Energy’s management brought into line.
“Before the election, Mike Baird promised the people of NSW that Essential Energy would remain in public hands, that regional jobs would be secure, and that electricity consumers wouldn’t face a downgrading to local skills and services,” he said.
“Instead, Essential Energy management — either in a rogue move or with the blessing of the NSW Government — has launched an unprecedented legal attack on his own workforce that could see thousands of highly-skilled and loyal workers lose their jobs.
“Regional MPs need to urgently speak up in defence of local workers who are being stood-over and intimidated by management.
“To do anything else would be an admission that the voters of NSW were deliberately deceived about the future of the publicly-owned electricity distributor.”
Mr McNamara also questioned the timing of the application, which came just hours after it was publicly revealed that the Australian Electoral Commission was carrying out a ballot of Essential Energy employees that could result in them taking protected industrial action as early as next month.
“This has all the hallmarks of a heavy-handed attempt to pressure staff ahead of this vote,” he said.
“Management are using the threat of having this workplace agreement terminated entirely to strong-arm staff into signing away conditions in advance.”