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ETU Media Releases

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Safety Inspectors shut down $200m Opera House Works

Paul Lister - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

In a very rare move, SafeWork NSW has issued a Prohibition Order, shutting down the $200 million renovation of the Sydney Opera House after electrical workers raised the alarm over deadly asbestos on site.

Scientific testing last Friday confirmed samples taken from work areas at the iconic site contained friable
asbestos, posing a serious health risk and leaving workers with no other option but to walk off the job immediately.

On Monday, the safety regulator issued builder Laing O’Rourke with the order, requiring all work to cease in the ceiling space of the Joan Sutherland Theatre - the Opera House’s second biggest theatre and performance space.

The Electrical Trades Union said 35 electricians employed by electrical contractor Downer have been exposed to loose, cancer-causing asbestos fibres while installing cabling.

“Opera House workers, performers and patrons have been put at serious risk because builder Laing O’Rourke has continually failed to find a solution to this critical safety issue,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

 “This is the second time in two months asbestos concerns have shut down renovations at the Opera House and the ETU is demanding to be involved in approving any asbestos removal or remediation plans.

“The NSW Government owns this building and must step up to ensure the asbestos removal is done properly as part of this major upgrade, particularly given the builder is receiving $200 million taxpayer dollars to carry out the renovations.

 “The ETU is calling for the full removal of asbestos from the Opera House as part of the renovation works to also protect future generations of workers, performers and patrons.”

Asbestos contamination at the Opera House was first identified two months ago, with SafeWork NSW issuing improvement notices to builder Laing O’Rourke, giving the company seven days to eliminate the threat to workers.

Instead of clearing up the dangers, Laing O’Rourke has threatened to take workers to the Fair Work Commission, accusing them of taking unlawful industrial action after they chose to put their safety first and stop work on the site.

 “These workers were faced with putting their jobs and even their lives on the line, knowing they were working on a potentially deadly site,” Mr McKinley said.

 “The ETU will always fight for the safety of workers at the Opera House to ensure their workplace is free of hazardous and deadly asbestos.

“The NSW has an obligation to future generations that sites like the Opera House are cleared of asbestos so that this scourge doesn’t continue for years to come.”

Electricians again walk off $200m Opera House renovation over safety fears followings asbestos tests

Paul Lister - Friday, October 06, 2017

Electrical workers this morning stopped work on the $200 million renovation of the Sydney Opera House, refusing to continue with the installation of cabling through the iconic building after receiving confirmation that potentially-deadly friable asbestos had again been located in work areas.

Scientific testing of samples collected yesterday were this morning confirmed to contain friable asbestos, sparking a meeting of electrical workers where they decided to walk off the job immediately until the serious safety issue was resolved.

The incident is the second time in two months that asbestos concerns have halted renovation works on the iconic building, with the Electrical Trades Union demanding the safety regulator and NSW Government intervene to ensure the issue is resolved.

“This issue was first identified two months ago, with SafeWork NSW giving builder Laing O'Rourke a weak slap on the wrist. The company had seven days to remove the asbestos or eliminate the threat to workers through appropriate safety measures and have clearly failed to do so,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“Electricians yesterday raised the alarm that they were again being exposed to loose asbestos fibres, which has now been confirmed by scientific testing.

“Two months after this major safety issue was uncovered, and the builder was ordered to rectify it by the safety regulator, we have again seen workers exposed to these carcinogenic fibres.”

Mr McKinley said the union was demanding the NSW Minister for Better Regulation, Matt Keen, immediately launch an investigation as to why SafeWork NSW refuses to impose a prohibition notice on Laing O'Rourke, which would prevent any construction work from taking place in the contaminated areas until the asbestos was isolated and removed by specialist contractors.

“It is completely unacceptable that workers, performers and the general public continue to be exposed to a toxic substance at this iconic building, particularly as the builder is receiving $200 million from taxpayers to carry out the renovations,” he said.

“Electricians have made a decision to put their safety first, despite the fact that Laing O'Rourke previously threatened to have them prosecuted in the Fair Work Commission after accusing them of taking unlawful industrial action when they last stopped work over asbestos concerns.

“It’s pretty clear the system is broken when workers are threatened with legal action for refusing to expose themselves to a deadly substance like asbestos, yet the safety regulator seems unwilling to ensure the builder is abiding by workplace health and safety laws.

“The NSW Government need to get off their backsides, take responsibility for this serious issue, and ensure that all asbestos is removed from the Opera House.”

Ausgrid launches legal action to force workers to train overseas replacements

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Australia’s largest electricity distributor has launched legal action to force staff members to travel to India to train a replacement workforce as part of the outsourcing of critical information technology services.

Ausgrid, which was privatised last year by the NSW Government, will this morning seek to have the Fair Work Commission rule that workers refusing to travel overseas to train contractors who will take the jobs of their colleagues are involved in unauthorised industrial action.

The company informed staff that it had signed a contract with Indian multinational Tata Consultancy Services to outsource more than a third of the workforce in the Geographic Information System section.

GIS is responsible for developing and maintaining detailed mapping information covering every element of the electricity network that provides power to more than a million homes and businesses in Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter and Central Coast.

As a result of the outsourcing announcement, which will initially see the local workforce cut from 77 to 45, power industry unions the United Services Union and Electrical Trades Union imposed a ban on their members being involved in training contractors engaged to replace Ausgrid workers.

“It is absolutely outrageous that the new management of Ausgrid is not only sending specialist jobs overseas, but they are taking legal action to force workers to travel to India to train the consultants who will be taking these jobs,” USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said.

“If the FWC sides with management, workers will be legally forced to fly overseas and train people to take the jobs of co-workers, colleagues and friends.

“This is absolutely appalling corporate behaviour, which is why union members have taken a stand and said they won’t be involved in training contractors that will take local Ausgrid jobs.”

ETU secretary Dave McKinley said the outsourcing announcement also revealed that the company had no intention of abiding by job protections put in place ahead of the privatisation.

“The NSW Government claimed privatisation wasn’t about slashing skilled jobs or services, but less than a year after taking the reigns the new private owners are sending critical services offshore,” he said.

“Because workers can’t be forcibly sacked under the job protections imposed by the NSW Parliament, Ausgrid management instead makes redeployed staff come to work each day with nothing to do and no colleagues to interact with, mentally grinding them down until they accept a ‘voluntary’ redundancy.

“This rubber room treatment is not only appalling corporate behaviour, it’s the reason workers are so committed to ensuring their actions don’t lead to colleagues suffering this fate.”

Mr Kelly said there were also serious security concerns about the outsourcing plans.

“The Federal Government blocked the sale of Ausgrid to buyers from China and Hong Kong because of the concerns of security agencies regarding foreign control of critical electricity infrastructure, yet we now have the Australian buyers simply handing this same sensitive information over to a foreign multinational,” he said.

“If companies from China or Hong Kong having access to this infrastructure was a security risk, surely it should be concerning that an Indian multinational will be controlling critical network information.”

Mr McKinley said the unions would be vigorously defending the legal action.

“Not only do we believe workers should have the right to follow their conscience and not train a workforce of overseas contractors to take the jobs of colleagues, we also dispute the company’s claim that this amounts to industrial action,” he said.

“In a nation built on mateship, sticking up for your co-workers should be something that is praised, not dragged through the courts and punished.”

Electrical safety issues uncovered on Sydney Metro Northwest after vehicle hits live wiring, blacking out tunnel

Paul Lister - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Workplace safety standards on the NSW Government’s Sydney Metro Northwest rail project have come under fire after an all-terrain Manitou forklift came into contact with live electrical wiring, blacking out the construction site and activating emergency lighting which was reported as inadequate.

Following the incident, a safety inspection by a licenced electrician from the Electrical Trades Union revealed additional breaches of Australian Standards and safety legislation on the project.

The union said the safety issues included three phase electrical wiring that had been wrapped around a water pipe and run through the tunnel without any physical protection in place to prevent vehicles or power tools from coming into contact with it and compromising insulation.

ETU Secretary Dave McKinley said that the most concerning moment of the safety investigation came when management on the project refused to cut power to the cable despite being informed it was not only dangerous, but also illegal.

“We have serious concerns that electrical safety standards are not being met during the construction of the Sydney Metro Northwest, putting workers at risk of injury or death,” Mr McKinley said.

“Days after power was cut to the railway tunnel when a vehicle struck a live power cable, our inspectors found electrical cabling that is breach of relevant electrical standards and safety laws.

“Wrapping a power cable around a water pipe, with nothing to protect it from being impacted by heavy vehicles or workers with power tools, is unacceptable on any building site, yet for some reason it is being done on a massive Government-funded infrastructure project.

“We fear that because so much of the construction is occurring underground and in tunnels, where the public and media can’t see what’s going on, management think they are able to cut corners with safety.”

Mr McKinley said that Safe Work NSW have failed in their obligation to investigate serious and repeated safety breaches on the site and that that NSW regulator needed to act.

“Safe Work NSW are nowhere to be seen on one of NSW largest and most dangerous worksites,” he said.

“I am calling on Safe Work NSW to do their job and enforce workplace safety laws that are in place to protect workers.

“It is simply unacceptable that such a cavalier approach to workplace safety that continues to put lives at risk  is being allowed to occur on a major, state government infrastructure project.”

‘Code Warm’ response to electricity supply threats will do little to counter six years of government mismanagement

Paul Lister - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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

Paul Lister - Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The restoration of electricity services to North West communities ravaged by a huge bushfire on Sunday could take a week or more, with local power workers warning that recent cuts to staffing numbers have drastically reduced their ability to replace damaged infrastructure.

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.”

Thousands of NSW residents face blackouts as forecast electricity demand surges ahead of supply

Paul Lister - Thursday, February 09, 2017
Thousands of NSW power consumers may be forced to endure blackouts this afternoon after the national electricity market operator warned of a looming power shortage as heatwave conditions cause demand to far outstrip supply.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has issued a warning that between 3pm and 5.30pm this afternoon NSW faces a shortfall of 419 megawatts of power even after importing large amounts of electricity from neighboring Victoria and Queensland.

Unless additional generating capacity can be found, AEMO may be forced to repeat the load shedding order that saw 90,000 homes in South Australia have their power supplies cut earlier this week.

The Electrical Trades Union said the NSW Liberals and Nationals were directly responsible for this looming power crisis as a result of the privatisation of electricity generating assets in 2014.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley highlighted the case of Wallerawang power station, near Lithgow, which was previously capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of baseload power but was closed down shortly after being purchased by Chinese-owned company Energy Australia.

“In 2014, the NSW Liberals and Nationals privatised our state’s publicly owned power stations,” Mr McKinley said.

“One of the first actions of these new private owners was to close Wallerawang, resulting in a substantial reduction to available electricity supplies and severely limiting the state’s ability to meet peak demand.

“If Wallerawang was still operating today, we would not be facing the load shedding and forced power blackouts that the national energy market operator is forecasting.

“The Liberals and Nationals told everyone that electricity privatisation would mean lower power prices and better services, but what we are likely to see today is the clearest possible evidence that the people of NSW were lied to.

“Electricity is an essential service, but when profit-hungry foreign investors take control of our public assets, they put their own interests ahead of the people of NSW, with consumers left to pay the price.

“South Australia is currently facing the same problem, with a lack of investment by the private sector in new base load electricity generation meaning higher prices for consumers and reduced reliability during times of high demand.

“We are now facing the potential for an east coast power crisis because privatisation has failed to deliver the promised outcomes.

“The current challenges in NSW have nothing to do with renewable energy generation and everything to do with private companies exploiting their power in a monopoly market while the people of NSW and South Australia are left to sweat it out.”



SOURCE: Australian Energy Market Operator forecast evening of 9 February - NSW 418MW undersupply or equivalent to 400,000 homes, https://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/National-Electricity-Market-NEM/Data-dashboard#operational-demand

Nationals must demand regional job protections as part of renegotiated coalition agreement with new Premier.

Paul Lister - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The National Party is being urged to demand that regional jobs and services at Essential Energy be protected as part of a renegotiated coalition agreement with incoming NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, with the Electrical Trades Union describing Mike Baird’s departure as a unique opportunity to save thousands of quality jobs in the bush.

The call follows Nationals leader and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s statement that the existing agreement between his party and the Liberals was a blank piece of paper, with everything up for debate.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said that while Mr Barilaro’s new found courage opposing forced council amalgamations was a welcome start, the National Party must go further to stand up for the interests of regional communities by protecting regional jobs.

“During the next three years, the NSW Government-owned regional electricity distributor Essential Energy plans to halve its workforce, from 3,200 employees to just 1,600 by 2019,” Mr Butler said.

“This plan will cause untold pain to regional communities as quality jobs are lost, specialist workers are forced to move away with their families, less money is spent with local businesses, and far fewer front-line workers are available to carry out maintenance and emergency response work.

“This is the perfect opportunity for Mr Barilaro to demonstrate the truth to his claims that every policy is up for debate and that the Nationals will no longer ‘accept the crumbs from the Liberal party table’.”

Mr Butler said the coming weeks provided an unprecedented opportunity, with a new Premier, a cabinet reshuffle, and a renewal of the coalition agreement between the Liberal and National parties.

“Since coming to power in 2011, the Nationals have overseen the loss of 1,400 regional jobs at Essential Energy,” Mr Butler said.

“Now they are pushing ahead with plans to make a further 1,600 regional workers redundant by 2019.

“Essential Energy remains 100 per cent owned and controlled by the NSW Government, meaning Mr Barilaro can and should demand the protection of these jobs as a condition of the National Party’s ongoing support.

“Saving these jobs would provide clear evidence that the National Party has truly learnt from the Orange byelection and will no longer rubber-stamp decisions in Macquarie Street that run counter to the interests of regional workers, their families, and broader communities.

“The alternative — continuing to support this ideological push to outsource jobs — would expose Mr Barilaro and his National Party colleagues as being unwilling or unable to adequately represent the interests of regional NSW in the parliament.”

NSW Government collects $28.1m dividend from Essential Energy as management slashes 600 jobs

Paul Lister - Thursday, December 08, 2016

Analysis of the annual reports of publicly-owned regional electricity distributor Essential Energy has revealed the NSW Government took $28.1 million in dividend payments from the company during the same period management was arguing the company needed to slash 600 jobs to remain profitable.

Essential Energy management told the Fair Work Commission it required permission to forcibly axe 600 jobs to remain profitable, yet the company’s financial reports reveal an operating loss of $1.2 million was only recorded after accounting for the $28.1 million dividend payments to the NSW Government.

The documents also show a dividend payment of $58.7 million was provided to the NSW Government during the previous 2014-15 financial year.

Senior managers enjoyed substantial pay rises over the past year while frontline workers have faced an uncertain future, with acting Chief Executive Officer Gary Humphreys having his total remuneration jump 40.3 per cent to $764,353 in the 2015-16 financial year.

Meanwhile, head of Customer and Corporate Services Caroline Hungerford pocketed a 7.8 per cent pay rise to $337,706, the salary for the Chief Financial Officer position jump by 5.7 per cent to $357,876, and Safety, HR and Environment chief David Nardi took away a 4.4 per cent pay rise, with a package of $331,250.

The Electrical Trades Union, which carried out the analysis, said the company’s annual reports also confirmed that since the Liberal National Coalition came to power in 2011, job numbers at the state’s largest regional employer had been reduced from 4600 to 3200, while the number of Essential Energy locations had been cut by nearly a third, from 147 in 2011 to 100 in 2016 (see table over page).

“Essential Energy management stood before the Fair Work Commission and argued that to remain profitable the company needed to slash up to 1,600 regional jobs,” ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley

“What they didn’t tell the industrial umpire, or the people of regional NSW, was that this was only the case because the NSW Government has been continuing to demand multi-million dollar dividends.

“Had this dividend not been paid, Essential Energy would have produced a $27 million profit last financial year — enough to fund the jobs of about half of those who are now being axed.

“The year before, that figure was more than double that amount, with the dividend payment enough to cover the wages of every single regional worker who is now being forced out the door.”

The company’s annual report concluded that financial outcomes had actually been better than expected, stating that this was the result of: “lower than budgeted (number of) employee’s during the year.”

“The fat of the matter is that these regional jobs could be saved by the NSW Government, but their addiction to dividends from this publicly owned utility is preventing that from happening,” Mr McKinley said.

“If the NSW Government returned these dividend payments, the company would be able to save hundreds of regional jobs.”

Essential Energy granted approval to forcibly axe 600 regional jobs across NSW

Paul Lister - Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Publicly owned electricity distributor Essential Energy has today been granted permission to slash 600 regional jobs across NSW following a decision of the full bench of the Fair Work Commission, with forced redundancies expected to commence within weeks.

The decision also removed any restriction of forced job cuts from 1 July 2018, allowing an unlimited number of highly-skilled power workers from rural and regional communities across the state to be axed.

The written decision also revealed that Essential Energy management intends to use outsourcing to carry out further cuts, with the company’s eventual target seeing in one in every two jobs go, allowing the size of their workforce to be halved to 1,600 employees by the 2019 financial year.

The FWC rejected a submission from power unions that no redundancies occur before the Christmas New Year period, allowing Essential Energy to move on redundancies within weeks.

The decision will permit NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy to:
- make up to 600 staff forcibly redundant by 30 June 2018;
- have an unlimited number of additional workers leave the company during the same time period if they accept a voluntary redundancies;
- make an unlimited number of staff forcibly redundant from 1 July 2018; and
- replace regional employees with outsourced contractors.

The FWC made the decision despite admitting that its ruling could be expected to have a substantial impact on workers and regional communities, with the written determination stating:

“In the case of Essential Energy, the effects are magnified because of the specialist skills of many of the employees involved, the location of Essential Energy’s depots in country towns scattered throughout NSW, and the scale of redundancies that have already occurred and will likely occur in the future...

“Employees located in country towns will find it difficult to obtain alternative work, either of a comparable standard or at all, in their current locations… Job opportunities are generally limited, and jobs involving the specialist skills of electrical tradespersons formerly employed by Essential Energy are virtually non-existent...

“It is likely that many redundant employees will have to relocate themselves and their families in order to obtain alternative employment. This will necessarily have direct personal effects on employees and their family members in having to change their house, community and school. It may also have effects on smaller towns in terms of the loss of income able to be spent locally and a possible diminution in community involvement.”

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which together represent the majority of Essential Energy workers, slammed the decision and urged the NSW Government to intervene.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said his union had made multiple attempt to contact new National Party leader John Barilaro, by phone, email and SMS, but so far had received no response.

“This is the time for the National Party to finally stand up for regional NSW and to demand an end to the wholesale axing of quality jobs by publicly-owned organisations across the state,” he said.

“Today’s decision means that, within the next two years, up to 1,600 highly-skilled power workers who live and work in regional NSW could be without a job.

“The economic and social impact of such huge job cuts — which will tear hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economies of rural communities — will be untold human suffering in the communities the National Party claims to represent.

“This is our challenge for John Barilaro: show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange byelection, stop towing the Baird Government’s line, and demand that this publicly-owned company not press ahead with these wholesale job cuts.”

ETU Organiser Justin Page said the ETU were also seeking an assistance package from the NSW Government to provide help for any Essential Energy workers that lose their jobs, including with retraining, small business advice, and recognition of skills and training.

“This decision is one of the biggest blows to employment in regional NSW that has ever occurred,” Mr Page said.

“John Barilaro is now facing his first challenge in his new role as National Party leader and NSW Deputy Premier, and that is to stick up for regional workers and communities directly impacted by this decision.

“The NSW Government, as the owner of 100 per cent of Essential Energy, has the power to intervene and save these jobs.

“All that is needed is for John Barilaro and his National Party colleagues to demand that their coalition partners in the NSW Government put the interests of regional communities ahead of their attempts to squeeze profits out of public companies.”