ETU Media Releases

ETU Media Releases

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Power workers seek modest wage increase and greater job security ahead of privatisation plans

- Thursday, October 16, 2014

Power workers across the Hunter Valley, Central Coast and Sydney have commenced wage negotiations with the publicly owned power company Ausgrid.

Unions, on behalf of workers, have tabled documents seeking a modest pay rise and increased job protections ahead of the NSW Government’s plans to privatise the states poles and wires.

Power industry union’s tabled documents ahead of negotiations seeking a 4 per cent wage increase, which represents a small pay rise with inflation currently running at 3 per cent, while having almost no impact on household power prices.

Economic modelling shows that the union’s wage claim would have a minimal impact on electricity bills, representing an yearly increase of just $5.92 for the average power bill, or just eleven cents per week.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said it was a small price when it comes to maintaining a highly skilled workforce who are dedicated to serving the people of NSW during time of emergency, like during bushfires or the recent storms.

Mr Butler also said that the workforce had shown constraint while being concerned for the future of their jobs as the government prepares Ausgrid for privatisation.

“What we have at the commencement of these negotiations is a sensible and very modest claim from the workforce,” Mr Butler said.

“These workers are concerned about the NSW Governments plans to privatise the State’s poles and wires, which creates an uncertain future for jobs right across the network.

“We have had economic modelling carried out which shows that a wage increase of 4 per cent will have a very small impact on power prices in the range of eleven cents per week for the average NSW electricity bill.

“Given the dangerous nature of the industry and the 24 hour emergency call out environment that these workers operate in we believe this would be a fair outcome from the negotiations.

“Power workers are also keen to secure a range of job security measures ahead of the government privatisation plans.

“These measures have zero cost impact but provide workers and their families with certainty and security.

“Given the NSW Government wants to privatise Ausgrid we are hoping that the Premier and management will take this into consideration during negotiations and offer workers greater job security and the protections that they are seeking.

“We know that the public are feeling pressure from power prices and that is why we have taken a sensible and fair approach to these wage negotiations.

“On average, power workers in NSW earn the Australian average adult wage of $78,878 a year, which is comparable with power workers from other states including Victoria.

“The workers common sense approach to maintaining existing conditions while seeking greater job security and a modest wage increase is in stark contrast to Ausgrid management who appear more interested in picking a fight with their workforce in the lead up to the government’s privatisation plans.

“It’s disappointing that the company appears to be shaping up for a combative round of negotiations when all the workers really want is a fair go when it comes to a small pay rise and future job security.”

 

Facts about Ausgrid workers and employment conditions:

Claim: Ausgrid workers get extensive private use of company motor vehicles.

Reality: Ausgrid workers use company vehicles in their day to day work. Currently three frontline workers at Ausgrid have limited private use of company motor vehicles, no other employees are entitled to private use of company motor vehicles.

Approximately 300 staff including Emergency Services Operators and District Operators – frontline workers who respond to emergency incidents such as motor vehicle accidents, building fires and wires down – currently have access to company vehicles when driving to and from work but no private use.

All other employees use company vehicles stored at depots for work purposes during work hours only.

Claim: Ausgrid workers get 26% superannuation.

Reality: Ausgrid workers, like all workers, receive the current 9.5% Superannuation Guarantee Levy (SGL).

Between 2006 and 2012 Ausgrid workers voted to accept lower wage increases in return for an additional 1% per year in superannuation totaling 6% in order to achieve what former Treasurer Paul Keating said was an acceptable level of superannuation as people continue to live longer. As a result of these past trade off’s the majority of Ausgrid workers currently receive 15% superannuation.

Approximately 1,314 Ausgrid workers currently contribute between 1% and 9% of their own money into superannuation on top of the 9.5% SGL and 6% past tradeoffs to receive up to 26% superannuation.

Claim: Ausgrid workers receive generous Long Service Leave entitlements.

Reality: Ausgrid employees accrue long service leave at the rate of 13 weeks for ten years of service which is similar to many other employers across Australia.

Employees who show a long term commitment to serving the people of NSW currently accrue long service leave at a rate 1.7 weeks for the period between 10 years of service and 15 years of service which is the statutory accrual rate in NSW, while employee’s with more than 15 years of service currently accrue 2.7 weeks per year for each year of service over and above 15 years.

These Long Service Leave arrangements have existed in the industry for more than 30 years to encourage the retention of highly skilled trade’s people in a highly technical industry.

These long service leave entitlements do not apply to all workers currently employed by Ausgrid as many workers have less than ten years’ service or leave prior to their ten year anniversary.

Claim: Ausgrid workers get paid overtime to travel to and from work.

Reality: Ausgrid workers travel to and from work in their own time and are not paid to drive to and from their ordinary place of work.

As with many other workplaces should an employee be called in to work after hours by management or should an employee be directed by management to work from a location other than that employees ordinary place of work that employee is paid a small allowance to cover any costs incurred.

This is not a regular occurrence and is always initiated by a management decision. 

Claim: Ausgrid Workers receive 4 hours pay for overtime even if they don’t work 4 hours.

Reality: Ausgrid workers who are called out for afterhours work at short notice and who are not required to be available for afterhours work as a part of their roster in some cases receive four hours pay for call out work. It remains a decision of management to call out workers for afterhours work, is generally only for high priority, safety or emergency situations and is not a regular occurrence.

Ausgrid workers are committed and dedicated to serving the public and as a result many workers sacrifice time with their families to respond at short notice and outside their normal rostered hours to dangerous situations as requested by management.

Management have agreed and signed off on workplace agreements that provide 4 hours pay to workers in such circumstances as fair compensation for responding to irregular and high priority situations.

Claim: Ausgrid workers who accept a job at a lower rate continue to get paid a higher salary.

Reality: Ausgrid workers who are displaced from their position by a decision of management, including restructures and are forced to accept a lower paying role currently receive salary maintenance for a period of one year. Salary maintenance results directly from management decisions and is not guaranteed beyond one year.

Ausgrid workers who initiate a transfer to a lower paying job do not receive salary maintenance.

Claim: NSW Power workers are paid too much and have better conditions than power workers in Victoria.

Reality: Power workers in NSW and Victoria have similar employment conditions and rates of pay.

Rates of pay for full time adult workers in NSW range from $44,774 for entry level positions to $143,572 for highly skilled and highly experienced supervisory/management positions. In Victoria entry level rates are $47,290 ranging up to highly skilled supervisory and management positions of $132,626.

The overwhelming majority of frontline power workers earn close to the Australian average adult wage of $78,878. As in all businesses some people earn more than this depending on their skill, experience and responsibilities while others earn less.

Power industry workers in Victoria received three wage increases between December 2011 and August 2013 of 4.5%, 4.5% and 5% while NSW power workers received two pay increases of 2.7% each in 2012 and 2013.

While individual elements of employment agreements may differ the take home pay of power industry workers in NSW and Victoria are comparable. There has been a concerted campaign by the NSW Government, Networks NSW and the NSW power companies to “cherry pick” employment conditions in an attempt to smear power industry workers.