ETU Media Releases

A planned 80-hour strike across the Essential Energy electricity network, due to begin last night, has been averted after the Fair Work Commission ordered the company into a 21-day bargaining period with the Electrical Trades Union.

Lawyers for the NSW Government-owned electricity network operator had been attempting to have the industrial umpire suspend the period of protected industrial action, which would have prevented the strike but allowed management to continue their attacks on the wages and conditions of workers.

The ETU argued that the FWC should instead take the other course of action available — the termination of the protected action period and automatic triggering of a three week bargaining period and arbitration of the dispute by the independent umpire if required.

The Commission agreed with the union, ordering a halt to the strike action that was due to commence at 10pm on Monday, 23 May, and a commencement of the 21-day bargaining period which, if unsuccessful, will allow the independent umpire to resolve the dispute once and for all by decide all outstanding matters.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said the decision was the best outcome available to the union to finally bring an end to the long-running dispute over Essential Energy’s attempts to immediately cut 800 regional jobs, as well as reduce wages and conditions for the remaining workers.

“Essential Energy management have been unwilling to budge despite more than a year of negotiations, making it almost impossible to reach an agreement,” Mr Butler said.

“This ruling is the best possible outcome for workers because it not only forces the company to sit down and negotiate in good faith, but it also means that if no agreement is reached in the next three weeks the Fair Work Commission will take the decision process out of management’s hands.

“Arbitration means the union will be able to put its case to the independent umpire who will then make a final decision that Essential Energy management are legally bound by.”

Mr Butler last night wrote to ETU members explaining the decision, and urging them to vote against a proposed agreement being put forward by management.

“The union is urging all Essential Energy workers to vote against a proposed agreement currently being advanced by management in a final attempt to implement 800 jobs cuts and slash conditions,” he said.

“Last night’s decision by Fair Work has strengthened the negotiating position of workers and has created a roadmap for bringing this dispute to an end.

“We are now calling on the NSW Government and Essential Energy to rule out any appeal of last night’s decision and allow this matter to be resolved by the independent umpire once and for all.

“The union will now focus on advancing the strongest possible arguments to minimise any impact on workers and deliver an outcome that is much fairer than what management have proposed.”

The Electrical Trades Union is calling on Essential Energy acting chief executive officer Gary Humphreys to resign after he suggested workers at the company of putting the lives and safety of community members at risk by taking industrial action.

Mr Humphreys publicly accused workers of having "a complete disregard for safety, network reliability and customers, including the many life support customers on Essential Energy's network".

His statements followed the notification of a planned 80-hour strike, commencing at 10pm on Monday 23 May, despite the ETU providing almost two weeks notice — more than was legally required.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said Essential Energy management had the legal responsibility for guaranteeing power supply to the community during the strike and that the union had provided ample time for the company to meet their legal obligations.

“Essential Energy’s acting CEO has not only delivered an unfounded attack on his own workforce, but he has demonstrated that he doesn’t even understand his legal obligations,” Mr Butler said

“The safe operation of Essential Energy’s network — including during a period of protected industrial action — is the legal responsibility of the company, and their owner the NSW Government.

“Gary Humphries doesn’t get paid more than half a million dollars a year to sit around blaming others, he has a responsibility under law to guarantee the safe operation of Essential Energy’s electricity network and that is what the public expects.

“If Gary Humphreys is incapable of meeting his legal obligation to guarantee a safe, reliable supply for Essential Energy customers, he should resign immediately.”

Mr Butler said that the action being undertaken by ETU members at Essential Energy was legally protected and has been approved by the courts.

“The planned 80-hour stoppage has been approved by the courts and is 100 per cent lawful,” he said.

"The ETU has made several concessions, including an offer to allow the independent Fair Work Commission to determine this matter once and for all.

“The fact remains that the NSW Government or Essential Energy could resolve this matter today if they wanted to and the planned strike could be averted.

“Management and the NSW Government have options available to them to resolve this dispute but both refuse to act.

“Rain, hail or shine, ETU members at Essential Energy will not be at work for a continuous period of 80 hours commencing at 10pm on Monday 23 May — unless this dispute is resolved or we are instructed to work against our will by a court of law.”

 

Power workers that operate the electricity network across 95 per cent of NSW will hold unprecedented strike action from Monday 23 May, walking off the job in an attempt to bring an end to a long-running industrial dispute with management at publicly-owned Essential Energy.

For the first time since protected industrial action began earlier this year, all members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) will take part, with more than 120 workplaces, depots and control rooms impacted by the stoppage. Unlike previous stoppages, the union will not provide a skeleton staff during the stop work period meaning management will need to resolve this dispute or make alternative arrangements.

The ETU formally served notice of the protected industrial action yesterday afternoon (Wednesday 11 May), which will consist of twenty consecutive four hour stoppages — commencing at 10pm on Monday 23 May and concluding at 6am on Friday 27 May.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said workers had endorsed the major escalation of industrial action in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the dispute over a new workplace agreement, which has now dragged on for more than 18 months.

“For 18 months, Essential Energy management have refused to come to an agreement, have rejected a range of generous concessions from the union, have refused to allow the industrial umpire to intervene, have put forward a proposal that would see the immediate slashing of 800 regional jobs, and have launched unprecedented legal action to cut our members’ pay and conditions,” Mr Butler said.

“That sort of aggressive, autocratic management — where workers are told they have no choice but to accept massive cuts to jobs, services, pay, and conditions — has no place in a modern Australian workplace and is completely unacceptable to our members.

“Rather than allow this dispute to continue to drag on for months or even years, union members have decided to bring it to a head with an unprecedented escalation of strike action that will see them walk out of more than 120 workplaces for a total of 80 hours later this month.

“Unlike the 24 hour strike held yesterday, this future stoppage is the first time that the union will not be providing a skeleton staff during the work stoppage.

“Unfortunately, this means the stoppage may impact on electricity services for some in the community but customers can blame management and the NSW Government for their lack of will to resolve this matter.

“The NSW Government has sat on their hands long enough. They can stop this strike action, but only by demanding their management team at Essential Energy return to the negotiating table and agree to abide by the decisions of the industrial umpire, the Fair Work Commission.

“For the sake of Essential Energy’s loyal workforce, and the 800,000 customers they serve, the Baird Government can no longer remain silent while their management team attempts to slash regional jobs and services.”

Workers at NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy will walk off the job for 24 hours on Wednesday after the company refused to allow the independent industrial umpire to resolve a long-running dispute over wages, conditions and job cuts.

Employees from more than 100 workplaces and depots across the state will take part in the strike action from 6am on Wednesday 11 May, returning to work from 6am on Thursday 12 May.

Negotiations for a new workplace agreement began 18 months ago, with the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) offering a range of concession to Essential Energy management in an attempt to reach an agreement.

Instead, the company has refused those offers, rejected a request to have the Fair Work Commission decide the outstanding matters, and launched unprecedented legal action that seeks to cut the wages and conditions of thousands of employees by tearing up the existing workplace agreement.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said workers have been left with no choice but to take part in a 24 hour statewide strike.

“Our members have done everything possible to resolve this dispute without the need to impact on the community service they provide, but management’s refusal to budge has left them no choice but to take strike action,” Mr Butler said.

“The ETU has made a range of generous concessions to the company on behalf of our members, including an offer to have the outstanding matters decided by the independent industrial umpire, but the company has rejected these efforts outright.

“As a result, ETU members employed at more than 100 workplaces across NSW will strike for 24 hours from 6am on Wednesday.

“Protected industrial action, is always a last resort, but when management not only refuses to negotiate, but won’t even allow the independent umpire to intervene, there is no other option available to us.

“If Essential Energy is successful in cancelling the current agreement, 800 regional jobs will be slashed overnight, wages and conditions will be cut, and consumers across rural and regional NSW will be left with lower service standards.

“Before the last election, Liberal and National MPs said there would be no cut to jobs or services, but for the last year they have remained silent as Essential Energy has done the exact opposite.

“If Essential Energy are not prepared to offer a fair and reasonable outcome it is likely that this dispute will continue to escalate with even longer strikes on the cards.”

Coverage will be available in the event of an emergency during the 24 hour strike period.

 

A first-year electrical apprentice has been rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital following a fall of approximately five metres at the Barangaroo construction site in Darling Harbour.

The incident occurred shortly after 8am today when the apprentice fell through a temporary floor cover over one of the service risers.

The apprentice, employed by the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) Group Training company and working for Stowe Australia, was being supervised by another apprentice at the time of the fall. This second apprentice raised the alarm.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union attended the site immediately following the incident and have already identified a number of other safety breaches, including workers being exposed to live electrical cables.

The builder, Lend Lease, has moved to stop all riser work in tower three until a review of the electrical contractor Stowe Australia has been undertaken.

ETU organiser Stewart Edward said that the apprentice suffered leg and back injuries.

“From what we know so far, the apprentice appears to have suffered leg and back injuries after calling approximately five metres,” Mr Edward said.

“He was treated on the scene by ambulance paramedics and has been transported to Royal North Shore Hospital.

“Thankfully, his injuries do not appear to be critical.

“Today’s incident is the latest in a string of safety breaches on the Barangaroo site, including some that have resulted in workers losing their lives.

“Both Stowe Australia and NECA Group Training have a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment.

“If it is found that they have breached their responsibilities it could lead to prosecution of both organisations, which is something we will be looking at very closely.”

The union informed SafeWork NSW, with inspectors attending the scene to carry out their own investigation.

“This incident could easily have ended with a tragic outcome,” Mr Edward said.

“The ETU will be pursuing this matter to ensure that this kind of incident does not occur again.”

Unions representing workers at regional electricity company, Essential Energy, have had an offer to end the ongoing dispute over a new workplace agreement rejected by the company.

The combined unions had written to Essential Energy offering to resolve the ongoing dispute by having outstanding differences dealt with by the Fair Work Commission through a consent arbitration process.

In a letter to Essential Energy’s Acting CEO, Gary Humphries, Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Secretary, Steve Butler offered to agree to a consent arbitration paving the way for the Fair Work Commission to resolve the matter through a binding decision on both parties.

“Last week I wrote to Essential Energy offering to proceed to consent arbitration which would see this dispute come to an end by having the outstanding differences dealt with by the Fair Work Commission in a transparent way.

“Essential Energy responded by rejecting the union’s offer instead saying that they are determined to press ahead with their unprecedented application to cancel the existing agreement that, if successful, would result in thousands of regional workers losing their jobs or being left worse off through the loss of pay and conditions.

“It’s now clear that rather than resolve this dispute through the use of the independent umpire, Essential Energy would rather spend taxpayer’s money and continue with their callous attack on regional workers leaving these people with no option but to consider escalating the dispute.” said Mr Butler

“Sadly, through the refusal of Essential Energy to end this dispute by agreeing to arbitration, workers across regional NSW will intensify their protected industrial action through more frequent and longer work stoppages, likely to be 24 hour stoppages.

“During negotiations the combined unions have made concessions including the introduction of forced redundancy following the establishment of an internal process to afford those affected with dignity and respect.

“To date Essential Energy have rejected all offers made by the combined unions and are refusing to budge from their demands of mass sackings.” said ETU Secretary, Steve Butler

“Management’s letter rejecting a resolution to this dispute is further example of Essential Energy’s pig headed refusal to shift on their demands or attempt to bring the dispute to an end through the use of the Fair Work Commission.

“The combined unions offer to resolve this dispute once and for all has been rejected making it clear that the company has a different agenda, one that will involve continued attacks on regional workers and an escalation in industrial action.” Mr Butler said

Click here to read a copy of the correspondence sent to Essential Energy offering agreement to consent arbitration on outstanding matters is attached. Essential Energy have rejected the unions offer.

Protected industrial action at NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy will take place for four hours today at more than 50 workplaces and depots across the state (full list at end).

Essential Energy employees last month voted overwhelmingly in support of taking protected industrial action in support of a new enterprise agreement. This followed an unprecedented legal attack by the company, which is seeking to terminate existing workplace agreements and cut the wages and conditions of thousands of employees across the state.

The Electrical Trades Union said Essential Energy management was also seeking to impose a new workplace agreement that would allow the immediate sacking of 800 regional employees.

ETU assistant secretary Neville Betts said workers at more than 50 depots, control rooms and other workplaces would take part in protected industrial action from 9am today (Wednesday 20 April).

“If Essential Energy gets its way, not only will redundancy provisions, redeployments, and salary maintenance conditions be threatened, but wages would be cut and almost a thousand regional jobs would be immediately slashed,” Mr Betts said.

“Workers simply refuse to take that kind of unprecedented attack lying down, and are determined to defend jobs and services in their communities across NSW.”

Mr Betts said union members would remain at their depots for the duration of the work stoppages in order to support their local community in the event of an emergency.

Workers are separately implementing a series of periodic bans on particular types of work, such as communicating with contractors or completing paperwork not related to workplace safety.

“Management simply refuse to budge from their proposal that staff accept massive jobs cuts, a two-year wage freeze, a ban on redundant employees applying for other jobs with the company, and a halving of the payment for emergency call-outs,” Mr Betts said.

“Workers refuse to accept that treatment, leaving them with no choice but to protest through lawful industrial action until the company starts to bargain in good faith.

“If Liberal and National Party MPs truly care about protecting jobs in regional NSW, now would be a good time for them to step up to the plate in supporting Essential Energy workers and their local communities.”

Locations of Essential Energy work stoppages — Wednesday 20 April:

Albury, Balranaid, Barham, Bathurst, Bega, Berrigan, Blayney, Bombala, Boorowa, Braidwood, Broken Hill, Buronga, Canowindra, Condobolin, Coolamon, Cooma, Cootamundra, Corowa, Cowra, Crookwell, Culcairn, Darlington Point, Deniliquin, Forbes, Goulburn, Grenfell, Griffith, Gundagai, Harden, Hay, Hillston, Jerilderie, Jindabyne, Junee, Lake Cargelligo, Leeton, Lockhart, Menindee, Moama, Molong, Moruya, Moulamein, Narrandera, Oberon, Orange, Parkes, Peak Hill, Queanbeyan, Temora, Tooleybuc, Tottenham, Trundle, Tumbarumba, Tumut, Wagga Wagga, West Wyalong, Wilcannia, Yass, Young.

Bidders for the publicly-owned electricity distributor Ausgrid are being urged to commit to the complete removal and remediation of deadly asbestos following revelations it was illegally imported and installed in more than 50 substations across Sydney, the Central Coast and Hunter.

Despite being banned from importation or use, between 2007 and 2014 almost a thousands switchgear units containing asbestos were installed in more than 50 substations, including those housed in Royal North Shore Hospital and The Star casino.

The Electrical Trades Union said that while a very small number of substations have been fully remediated, most simply had the asbestos sealed in place because the company wanted to avoid costly cleanups that would require disruptions to electricity services.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the union was seeking a commitment for a full cleanup of asbestos hazards from the two bidders seeking to buy a majority of the company, Chinese government-owned State Grid Corp and Cheung Kong Infrastructure, owned by Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing.

“The union is demanding that any purchaser of Ausgrid commit to not only safely remove and remediate this newly installed asbestos, but also to the complete removal of asbestos throughout the network,” Mr Butler said.

“We saw during the roll-out of the National Broadband Network the potential risks for workers and the community that are posed by asbestos remaining in public infrastructure, and we want potential buyers to do what the NSW Government has failed to do — completely remove it from the Ausgrid network.”

Mr Butler said the union was prepared and ready to impose safety bans and carry out other actions to see that the future safety of workers and the public was protected.

“Despite asbestos being knowingly — and unknowingly — used for decades at Ausgrid, not all of the locations of this deadly fibre are known,” he said.

“From what we do know, the ETU estimates the total bill to safely remove all asbestos could run to $2 billion.

“We need to ensure that bidders have committed to the full remediation of the network — and factored those costs into their budget — before the NSW Government hands over control of the poles and wires.”

The union said the revelation that new asbestos was able to slip through Australia’s import bans, and be installed over a period of seven years, was particularly concerning.

“This freshly-imported asbestos poses a far greater risk to workers, because no one expects it to be contained in new equipment,” Mr Butler said.

“Because workers assume new products are asbestos free, they often don't take the same safety precautions that would be used for older equipment.”

A full list of substation locations, and a link to photos and footage of the equipment can be found below.

Click here to view mobile phone footage and photographs of the Tamco Switchgear equipment inside an Ausgrid substation.

Full list of substations were asbestos-containing switchboards were installed between 2007 and 2014:

Newcastle / Hunter:
Aberdeen, Adamstown, Brandy Hill, Broadmeadow, Charlestown, Croudace Bay, Jesmond, Kurri, Maitland, Mayfield West, Medowie, Morisset, Muswellbrook, Rathmines, Raymond Terrace, Rothbury, Scone, Tanilba Bay, Tomago, Tomaree

Central Coast:
Avoca, Empire Bay, Lake Munmorah, Long Jetty, Berkeley Vale, Wamberal

Sydney:
Bankstown, Balgowlah North, Berowra, Camperdown, Croydon, Engadine, Epping, Galston, Gwawley Bay, Hurstville North, Kingsford, Kogarah, Leichhardt, Lindfield, Macquarie Park, Mona Vale, Mortdale, North Sydney (Bradfield Park and North Pylon), Port Botany, Potts Hill, Pyrmont (Sydney Casino), Rose Bay, Sans Souci, St Leonards (Royal North Shore Hospital), Top Ryde, Turramurra, Waverley

The Electrical Trades Union has formally notified management at NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy that protected industrial action will begin at locations across the state from next week, starting with two four-hour stoppages and a series of temporary work bans.

Essential Energy employees last month voted overwhelmingly in support of taking protected industrial action in support of a new enterprise agreement. This followed an unprecedented legal attack by the company, which is seeking to terminate existing workplace agreements and cut the wages and conditions of thousands of employees across the state.

The union said Essential Energy management was also seeking to impose a new workplace agreement that would allow the immediate sacking of 800 regional employees.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said workers at more than 100 depots, control rooms and other workplaces would take part in protected industrial action (full list below). Half will stop work for four hours from 9am on Thursday 14 April, while the remainder will take part in a four hour stoppage from 9am on Wednesday 20 April.

“If Essential Energy gets its way, not only will redundancy provisions, redeployments, and salary maintenance conditions be threatened, but wages would be cut and almost a thousand regional jobs would be immediately slashed,” Mr Butler said.

“Workers simply refuse to take that kind of unprecedented attack lying down, and are determined to defend jobs and services in their communities across NSW.”

Mr Butler said union members would return to depots for the work stoppages in order to support their local community in the event of an emergency.

Workers will also implement a series of periodic bans on particular types of work, such as communicating with contractors or completing paperwork not related to workplace safety.

“Management simply refuse to budge from their proposal that staff accept massive jobs cuts, a two-year wage freeze, a ban on redundant employees applying for other jobs with the company, and a halving of the payment for emergency call-outs,” Mr Butler said.

“Workers refuse to accept that treatment, leaving them with no choice but to protest through lawful industrial action until the company starts to bargain in good faith.

“If Liberal and National Party MPs truly care about protecting jobs in regional NSW, now would be a good time for them to step up to the plate in supporting Essential Energy workers and their local communities.”

Timing and location of Essential Energy work stoppages:

Thursday 14 April, 9am until 1pm: Armidale, Ballina, Barraba, Bourke, Brewarrina, Bulahdelah, Casino, Cobar, Coffs Harbour, Coonabarabran, Coonamble, Dorrigo, Dubbo, Dunedoo, Dungog, Ewingsdale, Forster, Gilgandra, Glen Innes, Gloucester, Goodiwindi, Grafton, Gunnedah, Guyra, Inverell, Kempsey, Kyogle, Lismore, Maclean, Moree, Mudgee, Murwillumbah, Nambucca Heads, Narrabri, Narromine, Nyngan, Port Macquarie, Quirindi, Stroud, Tamworth, Taree, Tenterfield, Texas, Tweed Heads, Walcha, Walgett, Warialda, Warren and Wellington.

Wednesday 20 April, 9am until 1pm: Albury, Balranaid, Barham, Bathurst, Bega, Berrigan, Blayney, Bombala, Boorowa, Braidwood, Broken Hill, Buronga, Canowindra, Condobolin, Coolamon, Cooma, Cootamundra, Corowa, Cowra, Crookwell, Culcairn, Darlington Point, Deniliquin, Forbes, Goulburn, Grenfell, Griffith, Gundagai, Harden, Hay, Hillston, Jerilderie, Jindabyne, Junee, Lake Cargelligo, Leeton, Lockhart, Menindee, Moama, Molong, Moruya, Moulamein, Narrandera, Oberon, Orange, Parkes, Peak Hill, Queanbeyan, Temora, Tooleybuc, Tottenham, Trundle, Tumbarumba, Tumut, Wagga Wagga, West Wyalong, Wilcannia, Yass, Young.

Essential Energy workers will today protest outside the office of Monaro MP John Barilaro after the publicly owned electricity network company announced the closure of the Morrissett Street call centre.

Staff were notified on the eve of Easter that 20 local workers would no longer have jobs, taking to 538 the number of regional jobs slashed by Essential Energy since June last year.

The Electrical Trades Union said the NSW Government appeared determined to increase the profits they receive from the public company by aggressively attacking staff across regional NSW, with wages and conditions attacked, jobs cut, and apprentices terminated.

ETU Southern NSW organiser Mick Koppie slammed the callous timing of the job cuts.

“On the eve of Easter, Essential Energy management turned up at the call centre in Morrissett Street to tell staff that their positions were redundant and that they would no longer have a job,” Mr Koppie said.

“Management then had the hide to tell these workers that they can continue working for Essential Energy, but only if they move more than 650 kilometres to Port Macquarie.

“These are twenty local workers, many with young families, affected by these job cuts and management’s solution is to tell them to pack up their life and hit the road. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

Mr Koppie accused National Party MPs, including John Barilaro, of sitting on the sidelines while the NSW Government owned company attacked regional jobs and services.

“As far as local workers can tell, National Party MP’s are sitting silently by as Essential Energy rips the heart out of regional NSW by slashing jobs and attacking their dedicated employees,” he said.

“Essential Energy is wholly owned by the NSW Government, meaning that these attacks on regional workers must be sanctioned by the Baird Government as the sole shareholder.”

The union said workers were protesting outside the office of local MP and NSW Government Minister John Barilaro today to demand he stand by pledges he made ahead of the 2015 election, including:

“I will always lead the charge in protecting local electricity jobs” (Media release — 9/3/2015)Íž and

“a key priority for this government is about creating and securing local jobs, so our families can look forward to being able to live and work in the Monaro” (Media release — 17/3/2015).

“Essential Energy workers are calling on John Barilaro to stand by his earlier commitment to protect local electricity jobs and stop these cuts from happening,” Mr Koppie said.

“If these jobs end up being axed from Queanbeyan we will all know that John Barilaro has failed to represent his electorate and protect local jobs.”