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ETU Media Releases

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Premier urged to send NSW power workers to Fiji to assist with recovery efforts following Cyclone Winston

Paul Lister - Monday, February 22, 2016

The Electrical Trades Union this morning wrote to Premier Mike Baird urging him to send a team of NSW power workers to Fiji to assist with restoring electricity services after the island nation was devastated by Cyclone Winston on the weekend.

The union identified more than two hundred highly trained employees from Ausgrid, Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy that management at the publicly owned electricity network companies have recently withdrawn from frontline work after classifying them as “excess to requirements” or “redeployees”.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said NSW was in a unique position of being able to quickly deploy a team to assist in the rebuilding and repair of Fiji’s electricity network.

“The fact is that once power is restored, other recovery efforts can take place more quickly,” Mr Butler said.

“The publicly owned NSW electricity companies currently have the resources available. All that is required is the political will to accept volunteers from the workforce to travel to Fiji.”

Mr Butler said recent decisions by management at the NSW electricity network companies had left many employees sitting in depots without work to do despite local maintenance backlogs and that these workers could be easily and quickly deployed.

“Many of these workers have simply been told to sit in the depot and not interact with other staff despite local maintenance backlogs,” he said.

“A large number of them would happily volunteer to assist the people of Fiji.

“Not only would that benefit our Pacific neighbour as it attempts to repair a ravaged electricity network and restore power, but it would allow these highly skilled workers to get back to work.”

The union pointed to the response to Cyclone Tracey in 1974, when a team of NSW power workers travelled to Darwin to assist local crews with the mammoth task of reconstruction.

“Assistance may be required from the Commonwealth to liaise with the Fiji Government in order to establish the exact number of power workers and the type of skills that they require, as well as some logistical support, but I would be shocked if such an offer wasn’t welcomed with open arms,” Mr Butler said.

“The ETU has identified how our members are able to assist, but at the end of the day we need to await a response from the Premier.

“Once we get the green light the ETU is ready to work quickly with the NSW Government and the Commonwealth to get these crews in place.”

Mr Butler also suggested that airlines may be able to assist, with relatively empty flights heading to Fiji to accommodate the many Australians wanting to return home.

“If the Premier picks up the phone to some of the airlines, hotels and Canberra there will almost certainly be offers of assistance to get these crews’ to Fiji, and have them fed and accommodated.” he said.

A copy of the ETU's letter to Premier Baird can be viewed here.

Essential Energy delegates reject proposed agreement that would slash 800 regional jobs and cut conditions

Paul Lister - Thursday, February 11, 2016

A draft workplace agreement produced by Essential Energy, which includes clauses allowing the immediately forcible sacking of 800 regional employees and an unlimited number of job cuts after June 2018, was rejected by workplace delegates from around the state at a meeting in Sydney today.

More than 50 Essential Energy delegates, representing colleagues from workplaces and depots across NSW, met to examine the agreement which was provided to staff this week by management.

The proposed agreement strips employees of a range of conditions and outlines massive job cuts across rural and regional NSW, with clauses in the draft Essential Energy enterprise agreement seeking to:

- cut 800 full time jobs, using forced redundancies;
- allow unlimited job cuts from July 2018;
- deem all currently redeployed staff as “excess employees” and, if no position is immediately available for them, make them redundant;
- ban employees who have been made redundant from being re-employed by the company within two years, unless it is a casual or temporary job and has the CEOs approval;
- halve the amount workers are paid when they are called into work in emergencies, from a minimum of four hours pay to just two;
- remove requirements that when work is outsourced, the private contractors must pay appropriate wages and conditions; and
- implement a two year wage freeze.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent Essential Energy workers, said the proposal was the latest in a series of savage cuts that threatened the NSW Government-owned electricity network’s ability to provide reliable and safe services to rural and regional NSW.

“This proposal is an attack on Essential Energy employees and their communities that would result in massive cuts to services and jobs in regional NSW,” ETU Secretary Steve Butler said.

“Since 2013, the number of Essential Energy employees across regional NSW has been slashed by more than 1,000, and if this agreement is approved a further 800 jobs would be axed immediately.

“Enterprise bargaining generally means that if you give something up you get something in return, but it seems Essential Energy management think it’s a one-way street.

“Not only is Essential Energy wanting to sack people, but they want to slash working conditions for remaining staff as well as implement a two-year wage freeze that will leave people worse off.

“The NSW Government seems intent on slashing regional jobs at Essential Energy, which threatens service standards while maximising the profits they take from rural and regional electricity customers.”

USU energy manager Scott McNamara said workplace delegates had made clear at today’s meeting that this proposal was simply unacceptable.

“Regional communities across NSW are facing a double whammy from the NSW Nationals as they push ahead with council amalgamations as well as regional job cuts at Essential Energy,” he said.

“Workplace delegates today reaffirmed their commitment to negotiating a new agreement in good faith and considering any proposal that contained reasonable options.

“But they refuse to stand by while jobs, services and standards are cut across regional NSW.”

Central Coast residents forced to wait for power reconnection

Paul Lister - Monday, January 18, 2016

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) says Central Coast residents were forced to wait days for power to be reconnected following last week’s storm because of massive staff cuts at electricity network operator Ausgrid.

ETU Secretary Steve Butler said that extended delays in the restoration of power supply following storms and major network breakdowns was becoming a regular occurrence because electricity network company’s across the state, including local provider Ausgrid, have cut more than 1,000 front line staff in the past year.

“What we have seen in the past year is the slashing of more than 1,000 front line electricity jobs across NSW with almost fifty of those coming from Ausgrid’s Central Coast depots.” said Steve Butler.

“The community should not be forced to wait days after a storm has passed to have their electricity supply restored.”

“Some parts of the Central Coast around Bateau Bay, Berkley Vale, Somersby and Kulnura were without power for up to four days and we believe that is a direct result of the fifty local jobs that have been cut on the Central Coast.” Mr Butler said.

“Imagine there were an extra twelve work crews out there reconnecting people following last Thursday’s storm – my bet is that every single resident would have been reconnected at least 24 if not 48 hours earlier than what they were.”

“My fear is that this type of delayed response will only get worse in the future because these power companies are planning even more cuts with Ausgrid wanting to sack a further 1,100 workers from the Central Coast, Hunter Valley and Sydney.”

“Our members pride themselves on going out to help the community after major blackouts, often in dangerous conditions, but to have management make a decision to slash jobs makes the task of reconnecting the public more difficult.” said Mr Butler.

“On top of this the Baird Government implemented new regulations in 2014 limiting the amount of compensation payable to customers following extended blackouts while adding a list of conditions that must first be met.”

“Ausgrid customers are now restricted to claiming a measly $80 for blackouts of more than 18 hours however this is not payable if the blackout was caused by a third party or natural disaster, including storm events, meaning that local residents will be left empty handed for the latest blackouts.” said Mr Butler.

“A lot of people are unaware of the massive changes taking place in the electricity sector, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but none of these changes are good for customers.” Steve Butler finished.

NSW Electricity Network will struggle in hot conditions

Paul Lister - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

As NSW gears up for a period of hot weather the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has raised concerns over the NSW Electricity Network’s ability to cope in what will be forty degree days as we approach the middle of summer.

ETU Secretary Steve Butler said that cuts to staffing levels and a reduction in network investment by the NSW Government have left the network vulnerable to periods of high demand like those presented this week with extremely hot weather forecast.

“What we have brewing is the perfect storm where the Baird Government has drastically cut investment in the NSW electricity network over the past 18 months while at the same time they have sacked more than one thousand frontline electricity workers across the state.” said Steve Butler.

“When the mercury rises to levels around forty degrees and above what we see is thousands of businesses and households crank up their air conditioner which puts and enormous amount of pressure of the electricity network as the demand for power peaks.”

“In the past the electricity network has coped well during these extreme weather periods but we now hold serious concerns about the Network’s ability to cope due to cuts to investment and massive staff reductions.” said Mr Butler.

“In the past year alone Ausgrid have slashed 879 electricity workers while Endeavour Energy has cut 155 staff and regional network operator Essential Energy has axed more than 350 regional jobs”

“Coupled with frontline staff cuts is a reduction of almost $500 million in network investment in the past year meaning the network we had twelve months ago is expected to cope with the demands of today.”

“The feedback from electricity workers is that the network is not in good shape and recent cuts to staff numbers and investment is having a material effect.” Mr Butler said.

“So today we are simply warning members of the public not to be surprised if the air conditioner stops working or your refrigerator is blacked out because we believe the decision of the Baird Government to cut staff numbers and slash network investment will come home to bite the general public at some time.”

“On top of these cuts, last year the NSW Government quietly reduced the amount of compensation customers can claim in the event of prolonged blackouts to a measly $80 per year but only when certain circumstances are met.”

“When your air conditioner, refrigerator and lights go out this summer remember to thank Mike Baird and his government for the deep cuts they have made to the NSW electricity sector but don’t bother emailing because your computer and internet connection will probably not be working.” Mr Butler finished.

Essential Energy executives paid generous bonuses while front-line jobs slashed across regional NSW

Paul Lister - Monday, December 21, 2015

Executives at publicly-owned electricity network operator Essential Energy received almost $4 million, including generous bonuses of up to $72,000, at the same time they were claiming challenging financial conditions left them with no choice but to axe 700 regional jobs and reduce services for consumers.

The company’s annual report, quietly released this month, also revealed that after tax profits for the last financial year were $266.3 million, while the company paid a total of $248.8 million to the NSW Government.

Essential Energy chief operating officer Gary Humphries took home the most generous package, with his wage and bonuses totalling $544,731, in addition to superannuation and other benefits.

Ten executives at the company received a total of almost $4 million, with base wages of $3,522,747, while seven pocketed a share of $303,910 in bonuses. The ranks of senior management also swelled by more than ten per cent, going from 138 the year before to 153.

The revelations came as Essential Energy management on Friday told employees they would be forced to use accrued annual and long service leave, whether or not they wished to, to help the company save money.

The Electrical Trades Union slammed the culture of executive greed, saying it was extraordinary that at the same time apprentice programs were being axed, regional depots closed, 700 jobs cut, and employees were being forced to use up leave entitlements, management were pocketing such huge salaries.

“Essential Energy is meant to be a publicly owned company delivering an essential service to vast parts of NSW,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“Instead, it is being run as a profit-making machine, with the NSW Government gouging $270.8 million from the electricity bills of homeowners and small businesses, while senior management take home huge salaries and massive bonuses.

“The community was told Essential Energy had no choice but to slash jobs and services because of the financial challenges it faced, yet now we see that those cuts were only necessary because the Baird Government and the individual executives have been lining their pockets.

“What is even more disturbing is that this executive management team and their actions have been supported whole-heartedly by the NSW Government, including local MP’s from the Liberal and National parties.

“These are the actions of a company and executive team that are totally out of touch with the communities they are meant to serve, and quite frankly completely out of touch with the expectations of voters about how publicly-owned utilities should behave.”

Click here to read a full copy of the Essential Energy 2014-15 Annual Report.

Endeavour Energy executives receive generous bonuses while front-line jobs slashed

Paul Lister - Monday, December 21, 2015

Executives at publicly-owned electricity network operator Endeavour Energy received almost $4.6 million, including bonuses of up to $165,474, at the same time they claimed challenging financial conditions left them with no choice but to axe 120 jobs across Sydney, the Illawarra, and Southern Highlands.

The company’s annual report, quietly released this month, also revealed that after tax profits for the last financial year were $243.6 million, while the company paid a total of $270.8 million to the NSW Government.

In addition to superannuation and other benefits, Endeavour Energy chief executive officer Vince Graham’s wage and bonuses totalled $953,444, while chief operating officer Rod Howard was paid $558,147.

In total, executives at the company received almost $4.5 million, with base wages of $3,857,176 along with $443,222 in bonuses.

The Electrical Trades Union slammed the culture of executive greed, saying it was extraordinary that at the same time apprentice programs were being axed and 120 jobs cut, management were pocketing huge salaries and annual bonuses that were much larger than most employees’ total salaries.

“Endeavour Energy is meant to be a publicly owned company delivering an essential service to millions of people in Wollongong, the Southern Highlands, Blue Mountains and much of Sydney,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“Instead, it is being run as a profit-making machine, with the NSW Government gouging $270.8 million from the electricity bills of homeowners and small businesses, while senior management take home huge salaries and massive bonuses.

“The community was told Endeavour Energy had no choice but to slash jobs and services because of the financial challenges it faced, yet now we see that those cuts were only necessary because the Baird Government and the individual executives have been lining their pockets.

“What is even more disturbing is that this executive management team and their actions have been supported whole-heartedly by the NSW Government, including local Liberal and National Party MPs.

“These are the actions of a company and executive team that are totally out of touch with the communities they are meant to serve, and quite frankly completely out of touch with the expectations of voters about how publicly-owned utilities should behave.”

Click here to read a copy of the Endeavour Energy 2014-15 Annual Report.

Ausgrid executives receive generous bonuses while front-line jobs slashed

Paul Lister - Monday, December 21, 2015

Executives at publicly-owned electricity network operator Ausgrid received almost $3.5 million, including bonuses of up to $71,500, at the same time they claimed challenging financial conditions left them with no choice but to axe 553 jobs and reduce services for Sydney, Newcastle, Central Coast and Hunter customers.

The company’s annual report, quietly released this month, also revealed that after tax profits for the last financial year were $420.1 million, while the company paid a total of $589.7 million to the NSW Government.

In addition to superannuation and other benefits, Ausgrid chief operating officer Trevor Armstrong’s wage and bonuses totalled $547,717, while fellow executive John Hardwick was paid $502,256. In total, executives at the company received almost $3.5 million, with base wages of $3,036,834 along with $443,222 in bonuses.

The Electrical Trades Union slammed the culture of executive greed, saying it was extraordinary that at the same time apprentice programs were being axed and more than 550 jobs cut, management were pocketing huge salaries and annual bonuses that were larger than many employees’ total salaries.

“Ausgrid is meant to be a publicly owned company delivering an essential service to millions of people in Newcastle, the Hunter Valley, the Central Coast, and much of Sydney,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“Instead, it is being run as a profit-making machine, with the NSW Government gouging $589.7 million from the electricity bills of homeowners and small businesses, while senior management take home huge salaries and massive bonuses.

“The community was told Ausgrid had no choice but to slash jobs and services because of the financial challenges it faced, yet now we see that those cuts were only necessary because the Baird Government and the individual executives have been lining their pockets.

“What is even more disturbing is that this executive management team and their actions have been supported whole-heartedly by the NSW Government, including local Liberal and National Party MPs.

“These are the actions of a company and executive team that are totally out of touch with the communities they are meant to serve, and quite frankly completely out of touch with the expectations of voters about how publicly-owned utilities should behave.”

Click here to read the full 2014-15 Ausgrid Annual Report.

TransGrid sale to foreign owners and corporate tax avoiders shortchanges the people of NSW

Paul Lister - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The NSW Government has been accused of selling out the interests of electricity consumers and taxpayers following the announcement that electricity transmission company TransGrid has been sold to an 80 per cent foreign-owned consortium.

The Electrical Trade Union and United Services Union, which represent workers at TransGrid, have raised serious concerns about the impact on consumers, the loss of long-term tax and dividends, and the corporate history of some of the companies in the winning consortium.

Among the purchasers is Spark Infrastructure, which already owns vast parts of the Victorian and South Australian power networks, where it has been responsible for rising prices, cuts to maintenance, and aggressive tax avoidance.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said research by the Tax Justice Network revealed that Spark had not paid a cent in company tax during the past decade, despite owning highly profitable monopoly assets.

“We don’t need to speculate about what the TransGrid privatisation will mean for tax revenues, because we’ve already seen what Spark have done in Victoria,” Mr Butler said.

“Prices have steadily risen for consumers, investment in infrastructure has crumbled, regional jobs have been slashed, and revenues that previously came to governments have completely dried up as the profits are aggressively shifted offshore.

“This consortium, which is made up of big banks, foreign governments and well-known tax avoiders, have just been handed the keys to the monopoly electricity transmission network that supplies power to the people of NSW.”

Mr Butler said the sale would have a negative impact on the NSW budget over the medium to long term.

“Since 2005, TransGrid have paid $2.4 billion to the NSW Government, money which has been used to fund infrastructure and essential services such as hospitals and schools,” he said.

“This sale puts an end to that sustainable, ongoing revenue stream, for a one off payment that is a fraction of the $10.26 billion price tag the Premier and Treasurer are crowing about today.”

Mr Butler went on to say the net proceeds of the sale would be around $7.3 billion after liabilities and sale costs were taken out leaving a measley net benefit of $1 billion for the people of NSW.

“In their most recent annual report, TransGrid’s regulated asset base alone was valued at $6.19 billion, meaning the state will be a measly $1 billion better off due to this privatisation — or the equivalent of four years of dividend payments,” he said.

“Given TransGrid paid $306.5 million in dividends and tax equivalency payments to the people of NSW last financial year alone, this is an incredibly poor outcome that future generations will pay for in the decades to come.”

Essential Energy workers win two month reprieve but face uncertain New Year.

Paul Lister - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

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.

Fair Work Commission orders Essential Energy to reverse notice telling workers not to come in on Monday

Paul Lister - Friday, October 16, 2015

Regional employees put in limbo earlier this week after Essential Energy management told them to no longer come to work have had a major legal win, with the Fair Work Commission ordering the company to reverse the decision and find meaningful work for the staff.

The Electrical Trade Union and United Services Union, which represent employees at the electricity network company, launched an urgent dispute before the industrial umpire, arguing the company had breached their legal obligations.

FWC senior deputy president Jonathan Hamberger this afternoon issued an interim decision (see over page), ordering an immediate return to the status quo prior to the workers being told earlier this week that they were not to come to work from Monday.

The commission ordered that the employees, which the company described as “redeployees in unfunded positions”, be contacted no later than 3.15pm today and told that the direction to no longer come to work had been revoked.

It also ordered Essential Energy to provide “meaningful work placement” for the workers, as defined in the company’s own Management of Surplus Employees Policy.

The unions said the decision had vindicated their advice to workers that the company’s notice was a breach of the existing workplace agreement and should be ignored.

“This afternoon, the industrial umpire has ordered Essential Energy to immediately reverse its directive to these workers and advise them that they can continue to come to work and will be provided with meaningful work,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“Our position — that Essential Energy had breached the workplace agreement and their own redeployment policy — has been vindicated.

“It is outrageous that a major employer, completely owned by the people of NSW, would treat its workforce in such a shameful manner.”

“Today’s decision by the industrial umpire is not only a win for essential energy workers but a win for all regional communities right across NSW.”

“We would now like to see local communities rally behind these workers and help fight to protect these valuable regional jobs.”

USU energy manager Scott McNamara said that the fight wasn’t over, but that the electricity sector unions would continue to stand up against Essential Energy’s attacks on regional workers.

“While these interim orders are a great first step, and provide legal certainty to our members when they turn up to work next Monday, the battle is far from over,” he said.

“We are still awaiting a decision of the Fair Work Commission — expected in the coming weeks — about whether Essential Energy will be able to introduce a policy allowing them to sack workers using forced redundancies.”

Media comment: Steve Butler 0414 877 679

Further information: Paul Lister 0408 231 858


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