ETU Media Releases
ETU Media Releases
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The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) will write to both the NSW Coroner and Mick Keelty, charged with investigating the Tathra fires, asking both to consider the role of the Australian Energy regulator (AER) in forcing maintenance cuts on power companies.
An investigation by Rural Fire Service (RFS) specialist investigators reported late yesterday that electricity network assets are likely to have played a role in starting the Tathra fire, which resulted in more than 60 homes being lost and damage to countless others.
Similar devestating bushfires in the last 10 years in both Victoria and the Blue Mountains were found to have been caused by vegetation coming in to contact with power assets during extreme weather events On both occassions significant class action litigation resulted from families who had lost their homes.
ETU Assistant Secretary Justin Page said today that the role of the Australian Energy Regulator in cutting maintenance funding to power companies was a national disgrace and directly resulted in power companies being unable to adequately manage effective maintenance programs including vegetation near power lines.
“The AER needs to be brought to account as a result of this devestating fire. Tathra is potentially the latest example in a long list of fires caused by cuts to maintenance by power networks.”
“In an era of extreme weather events, this faceless regulator has consciously chosen to ignore the public and community safety implications of its decisions and has chosen to focus solely on economic arguments.”
“This is at least the fourth significant national tragedy that has occured for arguably the same reasons. This needs to be a part of both upcoming investigations into the Tathra bush fire.”
In 2015 the NSW ETU formally raised concerns with the AER about proposed cuts to vegetation maintenance, citing bushfire risk following expert analysis (copies available). The AER however ignored the ETU’s concerns and proceeded to slash maintenance funding for all NSW power companies.
“Communities have suffered significant loss during events such as the recent Tathra bushfire and network operators have been placed under undue pressure when it comes to maintaining a large network of aging infrastructure.” said Mr Page
In a 2016 media release, then ETU NSW Secretary Steve Butler said about the AER “unsustainably slashing the money spent on maintaining, repairing and operating the network simply leads to inadequate infrastructure that may spark bushfires, fail in periods of extreme weather, or result in a growing number of blackouts and service disruptions.”
The NSW RFS preliminary investigation into the Tathra bushfires is expected to be released today and if, as anticipated, the NSW Government owned Essential Energy is identified as a possible ignition source the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and NSW Government will have serious questions to answer following massive power line maintenance funding cuts.
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) today called on the Australian Energy Regulator and NSW Government to explain massive maintenance funding cuts which the union believes has the potential to impact on public safety across NSW.
“If, as anticipated, the initial report by the RFS finds Essential Energy assets played a part in starting the Tathra fire, the Australian Energy Regulator and the State Government as the owners of Essential Energy have a moral oibligation to explain how their massive maintenance funding cuts may be placing the public at serious risk.” said Justin Page ETU NSW Assistant Secretary.
“The NSW Government has been focused on cutting costs at Essential Energy including slashing maintenance and capital works expenditure while at the same time maximising profit,”
“The NSW Government as owner of this aging and complex network and the Australian Energy Regulator should be focused on safety and reliability ahead of cost cutting which is not currently the case leading to potential impacts on network reliability and public safety.” said Mr Page
“If electricity infrastructure is identified as a possible ignition source we believe the upcoming Keelty Inquiry into the disaster at Tathra must look at these significant and underlying structural issues given their potential to impact on public safety.”
“Our thoughts are with the people of Tathra that have been impacted by this tragic event and we believe they deserve answers if today’s RFS report finds that electricity infrastructure was the ignition source of this fire."
In its own documents Essential Energy admits that it has shifted from an “Asset Maintenance” to an “Asset management” methodology while over the past seven years Essential Energy has sacked 1,700 employees representing almost 40% of its workforce.
Essential Energy has also massively underspent on it’s operating expenditure budget to the tune of $129 million in 217 and they have slashed capital expenditure by 38% since 2012 as a result of the Australian Energy Regulator limiting how much the company can spend.
Conversely, profit, net profit and distributions to the state Government have grown significantly in recent years.
“These numbers paint a compelling picture; the Regulator, the business and the NSW Government have combined to create a situation where the workforce has been cut to the bone and maintenance and safety work which any reasonable people would consider critical has also been cut back.”
Dubbo: Troy Grant must intervene to save jobs and services following revelation of Essential Energy closure plan
The Electrical Trades Union has called on Dubbo MP Troy Grant to urgently intervene following revelations that Essential Energy plans to close a warehouse that provides materials for maintenance and repairs to the electricity network across a large part of the state.
The Essential Energy warehouse in Hawthorn Street, Dubbo could be closed in as little as four weeks, resulting in six local jobs being lost and requiring electrical equipment to be shipped from either Wagga Wagga or Grafton when needed in an emergency.
The union said the Dubbo warehouse is responsible for providing items to Essential Energy depots across a large part of the state, including: Bathurst, Blayney, Broken Hill, Bourke, Canowindra, Cobar, Condobolin, Coonamble, Cowra, Forbes, Gilgandra, Lake Cargelligo, Molong, Narromine, Nyngan, Oberon, Orange, Tottenham, Walgett, Warren, West Wyalong, Wilcannia, and Young.
ETU assistant secretary Justin Page said that National Party MPs promised to save Essential Energy ahead of the 2015 election, but had repeatedly failed to live up to that commitment.
“Far from saving Essential Energy, National Party MPs across the state have stood by while 2,000 regional jobs were slashed and more than 100 depots and workplaces were closed down,” Mr Page said.
“Dubbo MP Troy Grant and National Party leader John Barilaro need to stand up to their Liberal Party masters in Macquarie Street and tell them that regional NSW will not suffer any further cuts to essential services.
“On average, people in regional NSW are waiting up to three times longer to have their power restored following a blackout, yet the NSW Government’s only response is to allow yet another vital facility to be closed down.”
Mr Page said there was no question regional power users — who already pay much higher prices for electricity — would be left worse off following the closure of the Dubbo warehouse.
“This warehouse is one of only three similar facilities run by Essential Energy, and as well as managing the materials needed for ongoing maintenance and repairs it plays a vital role during emergencies,” he said.
“When bushfires or storms cause widespread damage to the electrical network across large parts of NSW, it is the centrally located Dubbo warehouse that ensures the materials that are needed to get the lights back on are delivered quickly to the areas in need.
“Troy Grant and John Barilaro need to stop the death by a thousand cuts that Essential Energy has been suffering during the past three years and instead ensure that service standards and quality jobs are protected for the sake of everyone living in regional NSW.
“The promise that they would save Essential Energy needs to be turned into genuine actions, which requires the National Party to stand up to the Berejiklian Government, say enough is enough, and demand an end to the closures of facilities and cutting of jobs in regional NSW.”
Closure of Essential Energy depots at Trundle and Peak Hill will leave community with reduced services
The closure of Essential Energy depots at Trundle and Peak Hill next month, with specialist workers redeployed up to an hour away in Parkes, Narromine and Condobolin, will result in reduced services and slower emergency response times, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.
Regional electricity distributor Essential Energy this week confirmed that as part of an ongoing series of cuts to employee numbers and regional depots, the two facilities in Trundle and Peak Hill will close their doors from September 4.
Last Tuesday, ETU representatives met with Member for Orange Philip Donato to discuss the local depot closures, with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP expressing his shared concerns regarding the impacts of ongoing Essential Energy cuts.
“At the moment, when a car hits a telegraph pole, wind brings down power lines, or a house catches fire, local crews are available at Trundle and Peak Hill to respond, including after hours,” ETU assistant secretary Justin Page said.
“From next month, emergency services will be forced to wait for up to an hour for power to be isolated, as Essential Energy instead deploys crews from Parkes or Forbes.
“This delayed response not only impacts on the ability of emergency services personnel to do their job, it puts the safety of the public at risk and will result in services taking longer to restore.
“You can’t close two depots, relocate the workers and their specialist equipment to another town, then claim the local community won’t receive lower levels of service.
“It’s obvious that when the lights go out, or a catastrophe strikes, the people of Trundle and Peak Hill will be forced to wait longer before assistance arrives, it’s as simple as that.”
Mr Page also hit out at the National Party, saying they had turned a blind eye to cuts that saw more than 1,400 regional jobs axed from Essential Energy during the 2015-16 financial year alone.
“Before the last election, the National Party claimed they had ‘saved’ Essential Energy, but since then we have seen more than 50 local depots shut down and huge numbers of specialist workers lost,” he said. “It’s now absolutely clear that the Nationals lied to the public.
“Already this year, Essential Energy has closed depots at Moulamein, Grenfell, and Gundagai, as well as a major call centre in Queanbeyan, while management told the Fair Work Commission they plan to axe half of their remaining regional workforce in the next few years.
“This situation is absolutely unsustainable and will leave communities across regional NSW suffering with second-class electricity supplies.”
Union issues urgent safety ban after Essential Energy heavy vehicles found to be operating over legal weight limits
The Electrical Trades Union has issued an immediate ban on the towing of pole trailers by borer trucks, involving more than 100 heavy vehicles based at Essential Energy depots across the state, after up to 10 per cent were found to be breaching Roads and Maritime Services legal safety limits, putting drivers and the public at risk.
The safety issue was uncovered last Thursday, June 1, when an Essential Energy borer truck fitted with a crane used to dig holes and lift new power poles into position was found to exceed the legal safe weight limit for its front axle while being checked on a public weighbridge. Further examinations found 1 in 10 of the company’s borer truck fleet breached heavy vehicle safety limits, in particular when they were towing jinker trailers to transport power poles.
The ETU wrote to Essential Energy management the following day seeking an immediate action plan to address the serious safety issue, warning that it was not only putting workers and other road users at risk, but could also result in the drivers being fined more than $2,200 for operating an overloaded vehicle.
Essential Energy’s General Manager for Safety, Human Resources and Environment refused to issue a safety warning to staff, telling the union: “we have decided we will not issue a safety alert as it does not apply to the majority of our fleet or depots.”
ETU NSW secretary Dave McKinley said the union was left with no choice but to today (June 8) issue a fleet-wide ban on the use of Essential Energy borer trucks towing jinker trailers after discovering that days after the company was made aware of the serious safety issue, a potentially overweight vehicle was driven 360 kilometres from Inverell to Ballina.
“Days after admitting that 10 per cent of their fleet of borer trucks were potentially in breach of the safe weight limits imposed by RMS, Essential Energy not only refused to issue a safety alert to staff, but they had one of these trucks driven hundreds of kilometres, putting the safety of workers, other road users and the general public at risk,” Mr McKinley said.
“The RMS imposes strict legal limits on heavy vehicles precisely because of the substantial danger an overloaded vehicle poses to everyone on the road.
“The fact that Essential Energy was not only operating numerous vehicles that breach these legal limits, but that they refused to issue a safety alert to workers after the union uncovered the issue, shows a complete disregard for their legal obligations, the safety of their workforce, and the general public.”
Essential Energy this afternoon accused union members of carrying out unprotected industrial action by refusing to use the unsafe vehicles, with the company’s industrial relations manager threatening to take legal action in the Fair Work Commission unless the safety ban was reversed.
“Essential Energy’s failure to put in place a safe system of work that complies with the rules of the road left the union with no option but to impose a ban on the use of all borer trucks towing jinker trailers until Essential Energy can guarantee that these vehicles are operating legally and safely at all times,” Mr McKinley said.
“Instead of acting to ensure their fleet is safe, Essential Energy are instead devoting their resources to threatening legal action against the union and their own workers for simply demanding a safe workplace.”
‘Code Warm’ response to electricity supply threats will do little to counter six years of government mismanagement
The introduction of a ‘Code Warm’ protocol by the Berejiklian government, aimed to have the public sector reduce electricity demand during extreme weather, will do little to address the impact of years of mismanagement that have drastically reduced energy security for the people of NSW.
The Electrical Trades Union said the privatisation of electricity generation, transmission and distribution assets had stripped the NSW Government of the ability to directly address the threat of large-scale blackouts.
The union also highlighted the fact that several privatised power stations had been shut down by the new owners, reducing the state’s baseload power supplies in an attempt to drive up the prices their remaining power stations can achieve.
ETU secretary Dave McKinley said announcements such as the ‘Code Warm’ protocol were little more than window dressing and would do little to address the underlying issues.
“In February this year, NSW residents narrowly avoided large-scale rolling blackouts in the midst of a heatwave,” Mr McKinley said.
“The only reason the lights stayed on was that power stations in neighbouring Queensland and Victoria produced huge amounts of electricity that was transferred to NSW, while the state’s largest industrial power user had their supplies forcibly cut.
“With climate change, we know that weather events like this one are becoming more common and more extreme, yet the NSW Liberal and Nationals have spent the last six years selling off the generation and transmission assets that are vital to keeping the power on.
“Among the examples of government mismanagement is the sale of Wallerawang power station, near Lithgow, in 2014 to Chinese-owned Energy Australia. One of the first actions of this new private owner was to mothball the power station, which was capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of baseload power, to increase the profitability of their other generation assets.
“As a result of this sale and closure, the state’s electricity supplies were substantially reduced and our ability to address periods of peak demand was lost.
“While the Liberals and Nationals promised electricity privatisation would mean lower power prices, what we are increasingly seeing is less reliability and higher prices as profit-hungry foreign investors seek to maximise the return from these essential services rather than acting in the interest of the people of NSW.
“The Berejiklian government needs to admit that their claim that the private sector are better placed to provide an essential service like electricity was wrong, and start the process of directly investing in the power generation and distribution resources we need to keep the lights on in future.”
Staffing cuts delay power restoration for bushfire ravaged communities of Uarbry, Leadville and Cassilis
The Electrical Trades Union said members at the NSW Government-owned electricity network operator Essential Energy reported that the bushfire that claimed more than 30 homes had also destroyed 280 power poles and damaged hundreds of kilometers of power lines.
ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said residents returning to fire ravaged areas around Uarbry, Leadville and Cassilis faced being without electricity for days to come as a reduced number of maintenance crews worked around the clock to restore services.
“This is a massive repair job by any standard, but exhausted power workers have told the union their efforts to restore electricity services to these regional communities has been made substantially harder due to massive staffing cuts implemented by the NSW Government,” Mr McKinley said.
“Essential Energy crews have been sent from as far away as the Riverina and North Coast to assist with this repair work, but even with these additional resources there simply aren’t enough workers on the ground to restore power quickly following a natural disaster of this scale.
“The National Party has been caught with its pants down by this fire which has exposed as false their repeated claims before the 2015 election that they had saved Essential Energy.”
Mr McKinley said major Essential Energy depots in nearby regional centres such as Dubbo, Mudgee, Parkes and Forbes had lost up to a third of their workforce in recent years, while the company had just commenced a further 600 job cuts across the rural and regional power network.
“Since the Liberals and Nationals took power in 2011, we’ve seen the number of front-line electricity workers at Essential Energy slashed,” he said.
“Regional electricity customers pay some of the highest electricity prices in the country, so it shouldn’t be unreasonable for them to expect an appropriate number of workers will be available to restore power following bushfires and other natural disasters.
“Our members are doing their best to get power restored as quickly as possible, but with the scale of the damage — and the number of poles that need replacing — it may take up to a week.”
The union said local Essential Energy workers were upset by the pace of the response, saying they felt let down by the decisions of management and the NSW Government to drastically reduce workforce numbers.
“The distress of many victims of this bushfire has been amplified by delays with power restoration,” Mr McKinley said.
“While this is clearly the fault of Essential Energy management and the NSW Government, who are responsible for slashing regional electricity jobs, that doesn’t make things any easier for front-line workers.
“The union is encouraging Essential Energy management to at least seek to mitigate the problem by calling on the new owners of Ausgrid — which has depots just half an hour away — to send additional resources to assist with restoring power to these regional communities as quickly as possible.”
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