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Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy that management at the publicly owned electricity network companies have recently withdrawn from frontline work after classifying them as “excess to requirements” or “redeployees”.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.