Electricity, Water and Utilities

Ausgrid Update - 20 September

Posted on 20-9-2016

Dear Colleague,

Agreement negotiations

Ausgrid CEO Trevor Armstrong has made contact with the ETU and wishes to revive Agreement negotiations in the wake of the stalled privatization of Ausgrid. A meeting of the negotiating committee will take place on Wednesday 28th September to discuss the matter. As already reported, Ausgrid have previously rejected the selfless offer made by members for a wage freeze in return for no forced redundancies. It will be interesting to see what Ausgrid’s position is in the wake of the Foreign Investment Review Board decision not to sell Ausgrid to Chinese interests. Whatever Ausgrid’s position, we will not be in the business of undermining the 5 year job guarantees that were part of the accepted amendments moved by upper house MLC Fred Nile which ultimately became part of the legislation which permitted the selloff. The intention of those guarantees has been made abundantly clear by Fred Nile who has vowed to ensure that they are honored by the government. I will update you after the meeting.

 

Phase 2 Redeployment

Employees in the Hunter and Ourimbah regions are currently being subjected to Ausgrid’s process of determining who ends up as redeployees and who has a job. Sydney based employees will go through the same process in October. I am told managers are going around stating to employees that the whole thing was endorsed by the union and that people should just go along with it. This is typical Ausgrid spin of course. The ETU does not endorse Ausgrid destroying jobs. We fundamentally disagree with and fought against a proposition which says that Ausgrid needs to make people surplus when there is plenty of work to be done. Ultimately however, we have to try and get the best out of the process that we can for members and so we were heavily involved in the process of consultation on how it would be implemented. As a result of that consultation the assessment is much more weighted towards actual skills and capabilities than Ausgrid were originally proposing and most importantly has a review and appeals mechanism which members should utilize if they feel they have been unfairly treated. Please contact your workplace delegate or myself if you wish to pursue such matters.

 

Disciplinary Procedures

I continue to be involved in disciplinary processes with members who, without representation, attend a so called “informal fact finding” interview. The statements made at these interviews are then subsequently used against the member in dishing out punishment in a formal disciplinary process. I reiterate to all members the importance of not attending any interviews, whether informal or not, without representation from at least a workplace ETU delegate. Ausgrid will use these interviews against you as part of their final decision making process and so you must always have representation at these interviews.

In Unity
Mark Buttigieg
markb@etunsw.asn.au / 0417 208 447

The Essential Energy arbitration matter returned to the Fair Work Commission today for final submissions from all parties. Essentially there have been no new developments today with both sides reiterating their position on the various matters subject to arbitration.

Some of the items raised today included Essential Energy tabling a proposed clause that would permit the Fair Work Commission to decide if status quo should apply for each individual dispute in the future. Under this proposal the union would have to place the company into dispute and may seek status quo by making an application to the Fair Work Commission who would determine if status quo should apply and for what period. This proposal was raised in conjunction with matters relating to the ability to lodge disputes regarding the full employee/employer relationship and the ability for either party to pursue arbitration if desired.

The combined unions, following advice from our legal team, agree that the above provision is a better outcome than the total loss of status quo, a position that we believe the Fair Work Commission may be leaning towards if not agreed between the parties.

Essential also submitted that they require involuntary redundancy moving forward under either a capped or uncapped model. Under the capped model the company proposed that any voluntary redundancy should not count towards the forced redundancy cap.

THE COMBINED UNIONS REITERATED THAT OUR POSITION HAS NOT CHANGED – WE REMAIN OPPOSED TO ANY PROVISION FOR FORCED REDUNDANCY. The unions legal team further argued that should the Full Bench adopt a capped involuntary redundancy approach, that VR for identified employees/positions should be counted under the cap provision to provide effect to the cap. Without this approach a so called capped approach will essentially become open slather redundancy program.

The contracting out clause was also discussed at length with the company arguing that a dedicated contracting out clause is not required as they believe the standard consultation clause should apply to any contracting out proposal. The unions countered these arguments by highlighting the unique nature and impact that contracting out has on internal positions and work.

It is unlikely that a decision will be handed down by the Full Bench today, however once this occurs and once we have a full understanding of the decision we will advise all members of the outcome. In the meantime, Justin Page has taken over from Neville Betts in the role of coordinating the ETU at Essential Energy and Justin’s can be contacted on justinp@etunsw.asn.au or 0414 877 301.

Yours in unity
Steve Butler
Secretary.

The Electrical Trades Union is demanding senior management at publicly-owned electricity network company Essential Energy be held personally accountable for work practices they oversaw that resulted in the preventable death of 47-year-old father Trevor Tooze in 2013.

The call comes as the company was fined $300,000 over the incident, with the court finding the company placed a desire to maintain electricity supplies ahead of safety when workers were told to operate in close proximity to a live 11,000 volt cable, resulting in the preventable death.

An experienced electrical worker, Mr Tooze was one of six workers replacing several kilometres of powerlines on Monday 2 September 2013 along Seal Rocks Road, near Bulahdelah on the NSW mid-North Coast.

At approximately 10.25am, while receiving a copper cable that was being lowered to the ground, Mr Tooze was electrocuted when the cable came into contact with the operational high voltage line.

His colleagues performed CPR, but due to the remoteness of the worksite it took more than half an hour for help to arrive. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

“Trevor’s family, his workmates, and the community deserve to know which senior executive was responsible for prioritising the electricity supply over workers lives on that tragic day,” ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said.

“While the $300,000 fine is a welcome recognition that Essential Energy did the wrong thing, it is consumers who will end up paying it, so it provides little deterrent for unsafe practices.

“We believe the senior executives who were responsible for this policy, who knowingly placed workers in danger for the sake of maintaining electricity services, must be held personally responsible.

“Heads should roll, including Deputy Chief Executive Officer Gary Humphreys who held overall responsibility at the time, to send a message that the community has zero tolerance for the lives of working people being put at risk for the sake of convenience or profits.”

Mr McKinley said Mr Tooze’s death had resulted in changes at the company, including the rollout of almost 200 portable defibrillators following a 12-month union campaign.

“A portable defibrillator would have allowed Trevor to receive treatment within minutes, which would have increased his chances of survival,” he said.

“The ETU campaigned for this change in the hope that it could prevent similar tragedies in future, and there are now defibrillators taken on the road by crews across rural and regional NSW as they carry out maintenance and repair work on the electricity poles and wires.”

Click here to read the SafeWork NSW media release. 

Click here to read a copy of the Essential Energy incident report.

On Monday at Endeavour Energy two of our colleagues were injured, one of them very seriously in an electrical accident at Aird. The accident occurred during an attempted disconnection of a mobile generator at a kiosk type substation. Initial enquiries indicate that the accident relates to the process involved in connecting and disconnecting generators on to LIVE Low Voltage Boards at substations. The ETU immediately placed a blanket ban on all Live L.V. Board connections of mobile generators and Endeavour Energy, to their credit, put out a Safety Alert which had the same effect. Ausgrid has followed suit and both Safety Alerts are attached for your information.

I have tried unsuccessfully to discuss this incident with Essential.

Given there may be similar circumstances under which such connections take place at Essential, the ETU is placing a blanket ban on all connection and disconnection of mobile generators to LIVE Low Voltage boards in Essential. Until further notice, any such procedures must only be carried out with the Low Voltage Board de-energised – no exceptions. All members are expected to observe this important safety precaution.

In the meantime, I speak for all members and say that our thoughts and well wishes go out to our injured colleagues and we hope they make a full and speedy recovery. We will keep you informed of developments as they occur. In the meantime, if you have any questions please call.
 
Regards
     
Justin Page
0414877301
justinp@etunsw.asn.au

Dear Members,

On Monday two of our colleagues at Endeavour Energy were injured, one of them very seriously in an electrical accident at Aird. The accident occurred during an attempted disconnection of a mobile generator at a kiosk type substation. Initial enquiries indicate that the accident relates to the process involved in connecting and disconnecting generators on to LIVE Low Voltage Boards at substations. The ETU immediately placed a blanket ban on all Live L.V. Board connections of mobile generators and Endeavour Energy, to their credit, put out a Safety Alert which had the same effect. I have attached Endeavour’s safety alert for your information.

Yesterday Ausgrid Delegate Graeme Paterson and I met with Ausgrid management. Given that there are similar circumstances under which such connections take place on the Ausgrid network, and given the seriousness of the incident we insisted that Ausgrid needed to release a similar safety alert. Ausgrid indicated to us that that they would be putting out their own safety alert to similar effect. That Safety Alert was this afternoon released. Unfortunately, and against the counsel of the ETU the alert in our view is too ambiguous and vague.

As a result the ETU is placing a blanket ban on all connection and disconnection of mobile generators to LIVE Low Voltage boards. Until further notice, any such procedures must only be carried out with the Low Voltage Board de-energised – no exceptions.  All members are expected to observe this important safety precaution.

In the meantime I speak for all members and say that our thoughts and well wishes go out to our injured colleagues and we hope they make a full and speedy recovery. At this time all members are reminded to always take the most conservative approach when it comes to safety – if in doubt, don’t do it until there is no doubt.

We will keep you informed of developments as they occur. In the meantime if you have any questions please call either myself or Anthony O’Sullivan (acting Endeavour Organiser) on the contact details below.

In Unity,
 
MARK BUTTIGIEG 
0417 208 447 / markb@etunsw.asn.au

ANTHONY O’SULLIVAN
0467 565 902 / anthonyo@etunsw.asn.au

Endeavour Energy Incident Update

Posted on 06-9-2016

Yesterday two of our colleagues from Endeavour Energy were injured, one of them very seriously in an electrical accident at Aird. The accident occurred during an attempted disconnection of a mobile generator at a kiosk type substation. Initial enquiries indicate that the accident relates to the process involved in connecting and disconnecting generators on to LIVE Low Voltage Boards at substations.

This is an extremely serious safety matter and as a result of the accident the ETU is placing a blanket ban on all connection and disconnection of mobile generators to LIVE Low Voltage boards. Until further notice, any such procedures must only be carried out with the Low Voltage Board de-energised – no exceptions.  All members are expected to observe this important safety precaution.

The ETU has been in discussions with Endeavour Energy management who have advised that the company will be putting out a safety alert to similar effect.

In the meantime I speak for all members and say that our thoughts and well wishes go out to our injured colleagues and we hope they make a full and speedy recovery. At this time all members are reminded to always take the most conservative approach when it comes to safety – if in doubt, don’t do it until there is no doubt.

We will keep you informed of developments as they occur. In the meantime if you have any questions please call either myself of Anthony O’Sullivan (acting for Brad Currey) on the contact details below.

In Unity,
 
MARK BUTTIGIEG   
0417 208 447 / markb@etunsw.asn.au

ANTHONY O’SULLIVAN
0467 565 902 / anthonyo@etunsw.asn.au

The Essential Energy arbitration sat all day last Friday with attention focused on ETU witnesses. Dr Lynn Chester continued in the witness box on Friday morning with the Essential Energy lawyers cross examining her evidence. Dr Chester, an expert on the Australian electricity sector, focused on issues around the AER.

After lunch ETU Secretary, Steve Butler, was called to give evidence. Steve took a strong position outlining the brutal nature of the staff reductions and the real life impact this has had and continues to have on workers, their families and the community.

It would be fair to say that Essential Energy was not happy with this reality being presented to the Full Bench with constant objections forth coming from Essential Energy lawyers. Most of these objections were rejected as the Full Bench was interested to hear about the impact on workers and how they were being treated by the company.

Steve’s evidence also included information outlining that management attacks on workers are supported by the NSW Government.

During the course of delivering evidence Steve provided the Full Bench with an update on how the combined unions had repeatedly attempted to secure an agreement over a long negation period, Steve also provided an outline of where negotiations were up to immediately prior to the arbitration.

Essential Energy objected to this evidence being provided on grounds of confidentiality however the Full Bench were keen to understand where the bargaining had stalled and why.

Essential Energy lawyers also cross examined Steve Butler arguing that any workers made redundant would not be worse off because they would get a job with a contractor. In what the union can only describe as being out of touch the Essential Energy lawyers attempted to progress arguments that there has been an increase in the amount of work around the installation of solar panels and that workers made redundant from Essential Energy could get a job in this sector. These arguments highlighted the lack of understanding of our industry.

Throughout the day there were heated exchanges but the ETU witnesses and our skilled legal team stood their ground by standing up and advocating for members. There is no doubt that your bosses would have preferred to have been in that court room arguing for the cancellation of your agreement rather than an arbitrated agreement outcome, their dissatisfaction was clear throughout the day as the ETU provided important and compelling evidence.

The matter will return to the Fair Work Commission on 16 September for final submissions before the Full Bench will deliberate before handing down a binding decision.

The Essential Energy agreement arbitration continued yesterday. Scott Berryman completed his evidence which brings to a close evidence from Essential Energy witnesses.

Despite all of Essential Energy’s provocations about their ability to contract out work Essential Energy witnesses were unable to identify a single example where the business has not been able to implement their plans. It would appear that the company simply wants to implement their plans without the need to consult or consider the views of those effected.

In the course of his evidence Scott Berryman did not dispute the fact that No Forced Redundancy provisions have existed for many decades at the company and that this has never been a major issue in the past.

The Full Bench questioned Essential Energy witnesses about the effectiveness of a Dispute Settlement Procedure if it didn’t include the need for status quo for at least some period of time. The point being that if no status quo provision exists the Dispute Resolution Procedure becomes somewhat of a toothless tiger with the company being able to push ahead with change.

Further discussion was had around the Dispute Settlement Procedure, in particular a proposal that would see the need for both parties of a dispute (company & workforce) to agree before a matter could proceed to arbitration. The Full Bench made the point that a party would be unlikely to agree to an arbitration if that party believed they would not win, potentially rendering this part of the Dispute Resolution Procedure worthless.

Dr Lyn Chester commenced her evidence around the AER with the Essential Energy legal team cross examining her evidence. Essential Energy have been arguing that they must take action to lower electricity prices but they refuse to acknowledge that at the same time the company is appealing the AER decision to in fact increase prices, nor do Essential Energy acknowledge that there is no regulatory or legal mechanism to force electricity retailers to pass on any cost savings to consumers.

All evidence will conclude today with Dr Lyn Chester continuing this morning. ETU Secretary Steve Butler and former USU Organiser Natalie Falvey will take to the stand this afternoon which will wrap up the evidence stage of the case.

Final submissions will be made on 16 September before the Full Bench adjourns for deliberations before handing down a ruling.

Yesterday saw Gary Humphries continue on the witness stand where he continued in his attempt to justify Essential Energy’s attacks on its workforce.

Once Humphries was finished Luke Jenner took to the stand where he admitted that Essential Energy had already reduced employee numbers by more than 1,000 in recent years, he also confirmed that contracting out is still very much on the company’s agenda.

It was outlined that no decision had been made within the company on the exact extent of the number of forced redundancy but if past comments heading into EBA negotiations are anything to go by this company wants to be nothing more than an asset and contract manager while directly employing as few people as possible.

It was acknowledged that the company will vigorously pursue forced redundancy as they enact future downsizing plans. It was also admitted that the number of redeployees across the company now numbers just 47 with most currently on forced leave – forced by the company to use personal entitlements in yet another attack from management.

Scott Berryman commenced evidence late in the afternoon and he will continue with his evidence today after which the ETU’s expert witness, Dr Lyn Chester, will appear to provide evidence around the AER and its relationship with Essential Energy.

It is expected that ETU secretary Steve Butler will be called by Essential Energy for cross examination either this afternoon or tomorrow where he will stridently defend ETU members and the unions position.

The Essential Energy arbitration continued yesterday with Gary Humphries in the witness box all day. During his time giving evidence Gary Humphries continually tried to justify his decision to strip away employee working conditions at Essential Energy.

The issue of redundancy featured heavily throughout the day and the full bench heard that Essential Energy currently have one of the lowest redundancy packages when compared to other distributors across Australia. Through their evidence it is clear that Gary Humphries and Essential Energy are determined to try and further reduce redundancy entitlements.

The Full Bench appeared genuinely interested to try and understand the AER process and determination and the reasons why Essential Energy are seeking such large staff reductions. It was clear that Essential Energy had used the original AER determination as a convenient excuse for savage staff cuts but now this determination has been thrown out Essential Energy were back tracking with new arguments on why they need such large cuts to staff numbers.

This appears to be a significant change in the company’s original bargaining position and is clear that the AER was nothing more than an excuse for management to slash the Essential Energy work force.

Gary Humphries will continue in the witness box this morning and will be followed by Luke Jenner and Scott Berryman later today. It is now likely that the union witness will appear from tomorrow.