If NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance is serious about averting potential industrial action at electricity network companies Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy, he should call Mike Baird and ask why the Premier has failed to respond to a union request for a meeting to resolve the dispute.
Unions have released correspondence (below), sent to the Premier on January 23, seeking an urgent meeting to resolve the brewing dispute following revelations that Networks NSW was planning to make 4,600 power industry workers redundant, while Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy were asking staff to accept cuts to working conditions and take home pay.
The letter outlined the key sticking points in negotiations around job security and the protection of conditions, as well as outlining an initial wage claim of 4 per cent per annum, over two years. It also expressed a desire to reach settlement and avoid industrial action.
The release of the letter follows a bizarre, fact-free attack by Andrew Constance today, during which he called on power workers to call off industrial action — despite none taking place.
The Electrical Trade Union and United Services Union represent the 9,000 electricity workers employed by Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy to maintain and repair the electricity network in Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter Valley, Central Coast, Blue Mountains, parts of the Central West, Southern Highlands and the Illawarra.
The unions are currently awaiting the result of a postal ballot, conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission, in which at least 50 per cent of eligible workers must vote, with the majority in favour of industrial action, before any strikes may occur. Even then, the Fair Work Commission requires that seven days notice be given before any industrial action occurs.
“Industrial action is always a last resort,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.
“But when workers are offered an agreement that will cut their working conditions and take home pay, and the NSW Government refuses to sit down to discuss the issues, then what choice is left?
“The Premier has had more than two weeks to respond to our urgent request, yet there has been nothing but silence from the government until today’s bizarre rant from the Treasurer.
“Regardless of the outcome of the current ballot, we remain prepared to negotiate an outcome, but that requires genuine discussion, not public attacks.”
USU energy manager Scott McNamara said even if industrial action took place, it would be designed to impact Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy, not the general public.
“Workers have been asked to vote on a whole variety of industrial actions, including bans on using mobile phones after hours, refusing to disconnect customers that don’t pay bills, through to potential work stoppages,” he said.
“The outcome of the ballot doesn’t guarantee that these actions will be taken, it just means they exist as options.
“Our requests have been extremely reasonable, and include basic elements such as improved job security in the face of the Liberals and Nationals electricity privatisation plans, no loss of existing conditions and a reasonable wage increase.
“On the other hand, the NSW Government wants to drive up the cost of electricity for consumers and drive down wages in order to maximise the amount of money the government will get from its electricity privatisation plans.”