ETU Media Releases

The axing of more than 2,600 front-line power workers since 2012 has left NSW at risk of falling victim to similar chaos to that experienced in South Australia during the past 24 hours, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

The union said cuts overseen by the state and federal governments over the past four years had drastically reduced the number of skilled workers available to respond to major incidents, natural disasters and wild weather, leaving the public at risk of lengthy power outages.

ETU assistant secretary Dave McKinley said the number of front-line power workers across NSW had shrunk by a quarter since 2012, leaving the state increasingly vulnerable to the kind of extreme weather event that struck South Australia.

“What has occurred in South Australia in the past 24 hours could easily happen in NSW,” Mr McKinley said.

“While it is impossible to prevent network damage caused by wild winds and extreme weather, the ability to restore power for consumers is dependent on having the skilled workers available to respond.

“In NSW, we have seen more than a quarter of the entire workforce slashed in the last four years, including 1,385 workers at Ausgrid, 446 from Endeavour Energy, and 800 from Essential Energy.

“When the next disaster inevitably hits, this loss of skilled workers will have a devastating effect on response times and the speed at which power can be reconnected, particularly in the event of a state-wide natural disaster.

“The situation had been exacerbated by the NSW Government’s decision to respond to a recent ruling by the Federal Government’s energy regulator by further slashing the number of front-line power workers.

“The people of NSW have been hung out to dry by the NSW Government, with these massive cuts inevitably going to lead to major disruptions when future disasters strike.”

Mr McKinley said the union was urging NSW power companies to send immediate assistance to South Australia, in the form of workers and specialist equipment.

“Right now, our focusing needs to be on helping the people of South Australia by diverting all available resources and skilled labour to assist with restoring electricity services,” he said.

“The union is calling on the NSW distribution and transmission network companies to provide urgent assistance to our neighbours in their time of need.

“We are also urging them to take a good hard look at the resources they have available moving forward so they can ensure they have the skilled workers and specialist equipment needed to respond to similar events when they occur in NSW.”

The Electrical Trades Union has expressed its unchanged opposition to the privatisation of NSW electricity network businesses following an unsolicited offer from an Australian consortium to buy Ausgrid, which provides electricity to consumers in Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast and Hunter Valley.

The union said the sale of a majority stake would be bad for workers and consumers — regardless of the nationality of the purchaser — inevitably leading to higher prices, cuts to services and job losses.

The ETU is urging bidders AustralianSuper and IFM Investors to publicly commit to the retention of current jobs and service standards, including through legally-binding job protections for all existing employees.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said the unsolicited offer came just a month after Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison blocked a similar sale of the company, citing national security concerns.

“Our position remains unchanged: handing over a monopoly asset that provides an essential service to the community to any private owner will result in higher prices for consumers and bad outcomes for workers,” he said.

“The Federal Government has been advised that it is not in Australia’s national interest for Ausgrid to be sold off to a private entity, and our view is it doesn’t matter whether that buyer is a Chinese company or an Australian super fund, the risks remain the same.

“The only way to guarantee that this company remains fully in Australian hands, and that these risks are appropriately managed, is to keep it in public ownership.”

Mr Butler said the union would continue to demand legally binding protections to jobs and services.

“Our union will continue to work with Fred Nile to ensure legislation enshrining five-year job protections for all NSW power workers are passed through the parliament,” he said.

“AustralianSuper and IFM Investors need to make a public commitment that iron-clad five-year job guarantees for all Ausgrid workers are part of their proposal.

“They also need to ensure that their model for making money out of this investment isn’t built on cutting maintenance or service standards for consumers.

“We will not back down from our commitment to protect the jobs of our members, or the services that Ausgrid provides to the people of NSW.”

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.

Unions NSW, Electrical Trades Union and AMWU activists will today hit the streets in a leafleting blitz to call on NSW residents to reconsider purchasing Carlton and United Breweries products.

The company terminated the jobs of 54 electricians and fitters last month, before inviting them to reapply for their jobs with a 65 per cent pay cut.

Union-busting labour is now being bused into the facility on a daily basis.

"CUB has built its brand on blue collar sweat, but today it is leaving a very bitter aftertaste. To turn its back on its unionised workforce is deep treachery," said Dave McKinley, ETU Assistant Secretary.

"Today, we are returning serve. We are calling on trade union members across NSW to reconsider supporting all CUB brands, including VB."

AMWU State Secretary, Tim Ayres, endorsed the call. "CUB's behaviour in Melbourne is despicable. You can't extol Australian workers in your ads while sacking workers in your factory. This company is completely disingenuous.”

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said the entire NSW trade union movement was behind the campaign.

"This action has the backing of the entire NSW trade union movement. We will use every means at our disposal to hold CUB to account."

Power industry unions are urging NSW Premier Mike Baird formally terminate the proposed sale of Australia’s largest electricity network business, Ausgrid, after Treasurer Scott Morrison identified serious national security risks posed by both bidders.

Chinese Government-owned State Grid Corporation of China and Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure, controlled by billionaire Li Ka-shing, were the only remaining companies seeking to take control of the Ausgrid network, which provides electricity to millions of homes and businesses in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent Ausgrid workers, welcomed the Treasurer’s preliminary decision, urging Mr Morrison to stand firm in the face of expected lobbying from Chinese interests and the Baird Government.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said unions had been warning that the sale of Ausgrid to overseas interests was not in the national interest for more than two years.

“We have warned, time and again, that selling an essential service to a foreign investor or government poses serious risks to security, yet the Baird Governments only response has been to accuse us of racism and xenophobia,” he said.

“Today we have been vindicated, with Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Foreign Investment Review Board confirming what we have been saying all along.

“A monopoly asset that not only provides power to millions of homes and businesses, but also to countless government, defence and other critical facilities, is not something that should be sold off to any foreign investor or foreign government, regardless of what corner of the globe they come from.”

USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said Mike Baird’s power privatisation plans were in tatters.

“The only option left for Mike Baird is to abort this sale and commit to keeping our electricity distribution network in public hands,” he said.

“There are only two bidders left for Ausgrid, and the Treasurer has found both pose an unacceptable risk to our national security if they were allowed to take control of the company.

“It’s time the Baird Government stepped back from their ideologically driven privatisation push and put the interests of the Australian people ahead of a short-term cash windfall.”

The NSW Government is under pressure to close a potential loophole in legislation guaranteeing five year job protections as part of the Baird Government’s electricity privatisation program after Ausgrid revealed plans to overturn the agreement.

Christian Democrats MLC Rev. Fred Nile secured the five year employment guarantees as a condition of his support for the sale of majority stakes in Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy following concerns that jobs could be slashed by new private owners.

The Electrical Trades Union last week held urgent discussions with Rev. Nile after the largest of the companies, Ausgrid, wrote to the union revealing it would be pursuing a potential loophole which it believes will allow the introduction of forced redundancies.

The union welcomed Rev. Nile’s commitment to ensure the Baird Government lived up to the spirit of his negotiated job protections and indicated that he would be seeking to have a clause inserted into sale contract for the 99 year lease to ensure that the job protections are adhered to.

Rev. Nile also indicated that he would seek to amend the Electricity Network Assets (Authorised Transactions) Act when parliament resumes next month to close the loophole.

ETU secretary Steve Butler commended Rev. Nile’s commitment to ensure the job protection provisions he negotiated last year were adhered to by the NSW Government and potential buyers.

“When Mike Baird wanted his privatisation plans approved, he had no problem agreeing to the provision of five year job protections at Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy,” Mr Butler said.

“Yet a year on, and while Ausgrid is still in public ownership, we have already got management indicating they plan to exploit a loophole that they hope will allow unfettered cuts to jobs.

“The Baird Government needs to show good faith and ensure the job protections, which were negotiated by Rev. Nile as a key component of the privatisation going ahead, are in fact enforced.

“We welcome Rev. Nile’s proposed solutions, with the combination of a legislative amendment along with a strongly worded clause in the sale contract ensuring certainty for thousands of NSW power workers and the communities they serve.”

Mr Butler said Ausgrid had informed the union that it did not believe the job guarantees would be binding if it could succeed in having the Fair Work Commission agree to the introduction of forced redundancy, possibly through the termination of their current workplace agreement.

“This runs completely contrary to the intention of the NSW Parliament, which voted to support an amendment to legislation that unequivocally stated: ‘there are to be no forced redundancies of continuing employees during the employment guarantee period’,” he said.

Dozens of protesters wearing protective asbestos equipment will this morning target the head office of the nation’s largest electricity distributor, Ausgrid, to demand immediate action to safely remove the deadly substance from across the power network.

The Electrical Trades Union wrote to the company this week demanding action after it was revealed that efforts to remove asbestos — including in its most dangerous friable state — had stalled, leaving workers and community members at risk.

The union said documents obtained through freedom of information showed at least 29 current and former Ausgrid employees had been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases — including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer — between 2002 and 2012.

ETU organiser Mark Buttigieg said that with the imminent sale of the company, workers feared the NSW Government was trying to pass the buck, leaving a future owner to deal with the problem.

Protesters in asbestos suits demand removal of deadly substance
Where: outside Ausgrid head office, 570 George Street, Sydney
When: 11.30am TODAY — Friday 22 July, 2016

In 2013, Ausgrid management agreed to a series of remediation actions, including the immediate removal of friable asbestos from 10 substations, an audit of all asbestos-containing material in substations in the Sydney CBD, the provision of extra resources for asbestos removal, and the development of programs to remove and remediate fire doors and other components containing asbestos at substations and in other facilities.

The union this week wrote to Ausgrid chief operating officer Trevor Armstrong to highlight concerns that management had breached this agreement, with asbestos products remaining in substations throughout the CBD and serious cuts to the resources allocated to the issue — including to the company’s Asbestos Management Unit.

“Huge amounts of asbestos remain across the electricity network, from substations in the city to transformers in suburban streets,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“Most concerning is the fact that much of this asbestos is friable, which means the individual fibres are loose and — when disturbed — can easily be inhaled.

“This is the most dangerous form of asbestos, with even the smallest number of asbestos fibres capable of causing debilitating and even deadly diseases.

“We are already seeing two people die every year as a direct result of asbestos related diseases that they contracted while working on the NSW electricity network.”

Mr Buttigieg said Ausgrid appeared to be in breach of commitments made in 2013 that were meant to see a substantial increase in the resources put into identifying and removing asbestos.

The same agreement required the company to implement a process where workers could identify and record the presence and condition of asbestos in customer meter boards, which has also not occurred.

“Asbestos in the power network isn’t just hidden away in big substations, it is found in the meter box on thousands of homes, in transformers on suburban streets, and throughout the electricity infrastructure in Sydney’s central business district,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“The longer it remains there, particularly as it deteriorates over time and releases airborne fibres, the greater the risk that is posed to electricity workers and the general public.

“Rather than pass the buck to a future owner and hope that they will do the right thing, the NSW Government and Ausgrid management need to act now to remove this deadly substance.”

The NSW Government has handed down an unsustainable Budget reliant on volatile income streams that will undermine the State’s economic position in the medium to long-term, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has relied on one-off cash injections from electricity network privatisation and a stream of volatile stamp duty income from an unprecedented housing bubble to deliver a modest budget surplus, rather than secure sustainable long term income sources.

The union said that without the sale of electricity transmission company TransGrid, the Budget would have been in deficit to the tune of $7 billion, while Treasury will miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in future tax and dividends the company previously generated.

“Prior to the 2015 election, our union warned people about the negative fiscal impact caused by privatising income generating assets,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“It was a concern that was shared by many others in the community, including merchant bank UBS that issued a warning that privatising the state’s electricity networks would be bad for the state budget in the medium to long term.

“Today’s budget confirms these fears, with the one off cash injection from the sale of TransGrid propping up otherwise ailing state finances.

“If you remove the one-off sugar hit from the privatisation of the electricity transmission network, todays budget tells a very different story: one of revenue short-falls, deficit and poor economic management.

“The NSW Liberals and Nationals are relying on voodoo economics to hide their ongoing failure to act on creating sustainable long term revenue streams to fund our state’s future needs.”

The ETU challenged both the NSW Government and Opposition to rule out further privatisation of the remaining publicly owned electricity assets.

“The government and opposition cannot rely on unsustainable one off cash grabs in the future delivered through the privatisation of essential services.”

“Today’s budget is a clear example that privatising income generating assets for a one-off cash injection is not the silver bullet to solving the state's long term infrastructure and financial challenges,” Mr Butler said.

“We are demanding the Premier and NSW Opposition Leader rule out further privatisation of the remaining publicly owned electricity networks, including regional electricity provider Essential Energy and the remaining 50 per cent of Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.

“It is disappointing to see that we were right when we said privatisation was bad economic policy, and it is now up to the NSW Government to correct its mistake by halting the sale of Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy and ruling out any further privatisation of the remaining publicly owned electricity assets.”

Essential Energy management have suffered a crushing defeat after their proposed workplace agreement, which would have resulted in cuts to real wages and massive regional job losses, was overwhelmingly rejected by 87 per cent of their workforce.

The online ballot, initiated by management and carried out by Elections Australia, saw 2697 eligible Essential Energy employees vote, with 87 per cent — or 2347 workers — rejecting the proposal. Just 350 staff, or less than 13 per cent, were in support of the agreement.

The Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, and Professional Australia, which represent Essential Energy employees, had urged members to vote against the management agreement, warning that it would lead to hundreds of forced job cuts across regional NSW and prevent the independent umpire from deciding the outcome.

After 18-months of failed negotiations, and a steadfast refusal by the company to allow the industrial umpire to intervene, Essential Energy management have now run out of alternatives and will be forced to accept the arbitrated decision of the Fair Work Commission.

Essential Energy’s proposed agreement sought to impose hundreds of forced redundancies, financial penalties for staff who refused to take voluntary redundancies, and bans on redundant employees applying for other jobs with the company for two years. It also provided just a single, 2.5 per cent pay increase, while cutting other conditions and entitlements.

“This week, Essential Energy employees have sent an unprecedented message,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“They will not accept massive regional job cuts, they will not accept cuts to their real wages, and they will certainly not accept the bullying behaviour of a management team who have simply refused to consider the needs of the workforce during 18 months of negotiations.

“This vote leaves the company with no choice but to finally accept the decision of the independent industrial umpire, which will hear the details of our arguments and impose a binding outcome that will provide certainty for Essential Energy workers and the communities they serve.”

USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said the vote showed the resolve of Essential Energy workers had only grown in the face of unprecedented attacks on their jobs and employment conditions.

“For 18 months, Essential Energy management have been using every avenue available to them to try to force through a new workplace agreement that would allow them to forcibly cut hundreds of regional jobs and leave remaining staff financially worse off,” Mr Kelly said.

“There is no doubt in our minds that this unprecedented anti-worker agenda was being driven by the Baird Government — which is the only explanation for the total silence of local Liberal and National Party MPs about the threat of massive job cuts in their local communities.

“The power has now been taken out of management’s hands, with the independent industrial umpire finally able to hear all sides of the argument and make a final decision to bring this dispute to an end.”

Workers at Essential Energy have been urged to “vote no” in a ballot for a new workplace agreement, with unions accusing management at the NSW Government-owned electricity distributor of trying to avoid the matter being determined by the independent industrial umpire.
 
Unions have warned that the management-initiated ballot, if successful, would result in a cut to real wages and massive regional job losses. The electronic voting process commences from tomorrow, Saturday 4 June, and closes at 5pm on Thursday 9 June.
 
The management proposal offers a single 2.5 per cent pay increase over three years in return for workers agreeing to allow potentially unlimited forced redundancies, along with cuts to employment conditions, reduced consultation over future changes, and cuts to take home pay.
 
The Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union and Professional Australia, which represent Essential Energy employees, said the ballot was a last ditch effort by management to avoid having the Fair Work Commission determine the outcome of the long running dispute.
 
“Last week, the Fair Work Commission triggered a 21-day bargaining period that will be followed by automatic arbitration if no agreement is reached between the company and its employees,” ETU secretary Steve Butler.
 
“That decision was welcomed by unions as it potentially takes the decision making process out of management’s hands, allowing for independent assessment of the case by the industrial umpire which would then hand down a binding decision.
 
“After refusing to budge for 18 months, management has decided to have one final crack at getting their anti-worker agenda through in the form of this management initiated ballot.”
 
USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said power industry unions were urging workers to make sure they vote over the coming days, ensuring a clear rejection of this attempt to cut jobs and employment conditions.
 
“We are urging our members to make sure that they vote, that they vote no, and that they encourage their colleagues to do the same,” Mr Kelly said.
 
“We believe it is in the interest of Essential Energy workers to overwhelmingly reject this offer and instead allow the independent umpire to decide the outcome through arbitration.
 
“In 18 months of negotiations, Essential Energy management have refused to budge on their determination to slash hundreds of regional jobs and cut conditions that were fought for and won by previous generations.
 
“Essential Energy management, at the bidding of their masters in the Baird Government, continue to push for a workplace arrangement that will allow them to slash regional jobs and cut the quality of services available to power consumers.”
 
Background information regarding Essential Energy ballot:
 
Essential Energy management have initiated a ballot on a proposed workplace agreement which is opposed by power industry unions.
 
The ballot, which runs from Saturday 4 June until Thursday 9 June, is being run by Elections Australia Pty Ltd. Essential Energy employees will be emailed a code which they can then use to vote at www.myvote.com.au.
 
Changes to existing employment conditions in the proposed management agreement include:

  • Implementation of forced redundancies, with 250 people per year to be forcibly sacked on top of any voluntary redundancies. From 1 July 2018 there would be no cap on the number of forced redundancies;
  • Financial penalties for workers who are made forcibly redundant after refusing to accept a voluntary redundancy. Additional severance and early acceptance payments of up to 28 weeks pay available to workers who elect to take an early voluntary redundancy offer. If an employee does not choose to accept the early voluntary redundancy offer, they enter a 26-week retention period after which their employment is terminated and a lower severance payment provided;
  • Any employee who is made redundant is banned from being re-employed in an alternate position at the company for a period of 2 years;
  • The three year agreement only provides workers with a single, 2.5 per cent pay increase. This is less than inflation and amounts to a cut in real wages;
  • Cuts to conditions and entitlements will substantially reduce the take-home pay. Over the life of the agreement, many workers will miss out on thousands of dollars in entitlements;
  • Changes to consultation clauses will allow the company to proceed with major changes after a 28 day process. These major changes — such as replacing employees with contractors — are able to proceed after that four-week period regardless of the views of employees;
  • Removal of the “status quo” provision which currently ensures existing arrangements are maintained while a dispute is resolved; and
  • Minimum payment for being recalled to work outside of rostered hours, such as during storms or other major outages, halved from four hours to two hours.