Reports are emerging from frontline electricity workers about poor management decisions that have delayed the restoration of power supplies to more than 225,000 homes impacted by severe weather earlier this week.
In the worst cases workers were forced to wait more than five hours for equipment and paperwork to arrive, while frontline staff were sent home during the height of the storm, delaying repair work.
Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said poor decisions by management coupled with recent cuts of more than 1,000 jobs at Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy had resulted in lengthy delays in the restoration of power supplies in Sydney, the Hunter, and on the Central Coast.
“We are getting reports through from frontline electricity workers about questionable decisions made by management over the past seventy-two hours that resulted in major delays to customers having their electricity reconnected,” Mr Butler said.
“The reports from across the Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy network areas include staff who worked on Monday night being told not to return to work until Wednesday morning.
“When these staff reported to their depot at 6am they then had to wait for more than five hours for equipment and paperwork before being able to leave the depot and respond to emergencies.
“In other cases, crews responding to emergencies such as live wires that had come down were told to leave the jobs after just 10 hours of work, potentially putting the public at risk until replacement crews were called in.
“This was despite employment agreements allowing workers to complete up to sixteen hours work to respond to emergencies such as this one.
“Questions need to be asked about these poor decisions by management, especially as the frontline workers were champing at the bit to get customers reconnected.
“Management will undoubtedly try to hide behind safety and fatigue management but this response does not stack up given that this has not been an issue with staff working sixteen hours in past emergency situations.
“If the reason that the emergency response was delayed was simply because the NSW Government owned power companies didn’t want to pay workers penalty rates to respond after hours, then the public deserve to know.
“Reports from frontline workers are that the coordination and management of this emergency by Ausgrid was poorly handled by senior and local managers who have in some cases have only held their positions for a few months and had little or no experience in emergency response.
“Compounding poor management decisions is the fact that Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy have slashed their workforce by more than 1,000 staff over the past twelve months, including frontline workers who respond in emergency situations.”
The union said the situation would only get worse in future, with Networks NSW planning to cut a further 2,400 jobs at Ausgrid — which represents 43 per cent of the workforce — and more than 700 jobs — or almost 30 percent of the workforce — at Endeavour Energy.
“You cannot get rid of this many workers and maintain adequate staffing levels to keep the network running in a safe manner let alone respond to a catastrophic event like we have witnessed in the past few days,” Mr Butler said.
“I believe that serious questions need to be asked of both management and the NSW Government about how they plan to protect the public in the future and prevent poor management decisions such as those that have resulted in delays to customer reconnections this week.
“Electricity workers have again put the public first by putting their family life on hold and working around the clock in treacherous conditions to make dangerous situations safe and to reconnect hundreds of thousands of customers.
“It is a shame that the hard work and effort of frontline workers is being hampered by poor management decisions and cuts to frontline jobs.”