Electricity, Water and Utilities

Electricity, Water and Utilities

Fair Work Commission hand down Essential Energy decision.

Paul Lister - Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Prior to the Workplace Determination matter Essential Energy employees were facing the prospect of an Agreement Cancellation case, which if Essential Energy were successful in, may have resulted in all Essential Energy employees reverting to the modern award with the loss of allowances and significant reduction in pay and conditions including unlimited forced redundancy.

ETU members were faced with fighting the agreement cancellation matter and rick losing or forcing the issue to arbitration and letting the Fair Work Commission determine the outcome of the Essential Energy Workplace Agreement.

In May ETU members took decisive action which forced the deadlock to arbitration covering four items, those being:

  • Consultation term,
  • Dispute Settlement Procedure,
  • Redundancy provisions, and;
  • Outsourcing provisions.

The Fair Work Commission has today handed down their Workplace Determination covering these items which is attached for members to read and consider. The following is a summary explanation provided for ETU members at Essential Energy.

Consultation.

The Fair Work Commission has determined that the “model consultation clause” as contained in the Fair Work Act should apply under a new workplace agreement. The “model clause” requires consultation:

“Once a definite decision to introduce a major change to production, program, organization, structure or technology in relation to its enterprise agreement that is likely to have a significant effect on the employees.”

Or

“Proposes to introduce a change to the regular roster or ordinary hours of work of employees.”

Essentially this clause requires Essential Energy to advise relevant employees about major change once a decision has been made and that the company is required to “give prompt and genuine consideration to matters raised about the change by relevant employees”.

In the event of any workplace change it will now be up to members to notify Essential Energy that they want the union involved in consultation as Essential Energy will no longer be required to notify the union but only affected employees.

Dispute Settlement Procedure.

The Dispute Settlement procedure will continue to cover all disputes arising out of the employer-employee relationship – this essentially means that the DSP will apply to all workplace disputes moving forward as has done in the past.

The Dispute Settlement Procedure included in the Workplace Determination retains a limited status-quo provision, however unions must now apply to the Fair Work Commission for Status Quo to apply which will be time limited and applied on a case by case basis.

The DSP Clause remains largely unchanged from the existing agreement with the exception of how Status Quo will apply.

Redundancy Provisions.

The ETU forcefully put our views in relation to the retention of no forced redundancy, despite this the Fair Work Commission in the Workplace Determination has included provisions for involuntary (forced) redundancy.

The provision determined by the Fair Work Commission, despite protests from your union, allows Essential Energy to make up to 600 roles forcibly redundant over the course of the agreement which will expire on 30 June 2018, after which point there is no cap.

Importantly, and against the unions’ submissions, the Fair Work Commission has ruled that any Voluntary Redundancy and Mix & Match WILL NOT CONTRIBUTE TO THIS CAP, additionally current re-deployees will also not form part of this cap however current re-deployees will be entitled to participate in the “early retirement” option as outlined below, something that Essential Energy management argued strongly against.

The redundancy provision included in the Workplace Determination will provide employees holding positions that are determined redundant with the option to accept and an “early retirement” payment of 20 weeks’ pay plus their redundancy payment calculated using the all-purpose rate (Essential Energy wanted base pay to form this calculation) and years of service capped at 52 weeks (ie maximum of 72 weeks’ pay).

The Workplace Determination indicates that the 600 cap relates to “roles” and not “people”. The focus will be on how Essential Energy attempt to interpret the definition of roles.

The case fought by the ETU has exposed plans of Essential Energy management to reduce their current workforce from 3,200 to 1,600 by 2019. Essential Energy lawyers, on behalf of management, attempted to keep this plan secret by application to Fair Work which was rejected.

The ETU can only assume that management and the NSW Liberal/National Government wanted to keep this secret so no one would question how they intend to deliver a safe and reliable regional electricity network into the future. This is another example of how management and the NSW Government have deceived employees.

Outsourcing Provision.

Essential Energy have indicated that they intend to “re-shape” their workforce through the use of outsourcing in order to cut current staff numbers from 3,200 to 1,600 by 2019. Under the provision handed down by the Fair Work Commission, Essential Energy will be permitted to engage contractors where peak workloads cannot be met by the Essential Energy workforce or where specific expertise is not available in the Essential Energy workforce.

If contractors are to be considered, Essential Energy must “test the market” and provide assistance to employees to prepare an Expression of Interest or tender.  The Contracting out clause will be subject to the Dispute Settlement Procedure and the ETU will continue to fight to ensure work is kept in-house.

The outsourcing provision remains largely unchanged but is a long way from what the company wanted which was open slather contracting out of existing jobs.

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There is no doubt that the outcome of the Fair Work Commissions workplace determination will have long lasting impacts for dedicated and loyal Essential Energy workers and the ETU will continue to represent members and fight for the best possible outcomes for each individual member.

The workplace determination has bought to a head the long running dispute between Essential Energy, their employees and their unions. The ETU is today calling on the NSW National Party to intervene and stop any job losses – a test for the new National Party Leader, John Barilaro.

The ETU will be holding a telephone townhall with delegates on Friday, and Organisers will be visiting depots and making themselves available to members to discuss the outcome and the process moving forward.

Both the company and unions must now accept the Fair Work Commission outcome and make application for a new agreement within three days after which the Workplace Determination will come into force by way of a new workplace agreement including the terms set out in the determination. This process should be completed in the coming weeks.

Throughout this dispute and over the past two years ETU members have been unbelievable in their solidarity, mateship and general support of each other and while we face difficult times ahead I ask all members to look out for each other and to contact the union with any concerns you have.

We will continue to stand up for you and take the fight forward into the future both in the workplace and politically in order to make the best of this outcome.

A full copy of the Decision will be available once a corrected version is issued by the Fair Work Commission.

In Unity,
Steve Butler