ETU Media Releases

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.”

Electrical Trades Union members employed at Essential Energy have voted overwhelmingly in support of industrial action and other work bans, with stoppages at the publicly-owned electricity network company now able to lawfully take place from early next month.

The ballot, conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission, found 94.8 per cent supported implementing work stoppages of between one and 72 hours in length, while 96.1 per cent endorsed imposing bans on a range of work practices, including overtime, training, paperwork, and the use of computers, mobile phones and other technologies.

The vote came as the NSW Government-owned company is undertaking an unprecedented legal attack on workers, seeking to terminate a range of agreements and policies.

If successful, the case could terminate policies covering redundancy provisions, staff redeployments, and salary maintenance, stripping away wages and conditions from thousands of employees across the state.

The company has also proposed a new workplace agreement that would allow the immediate sacking of 800 regional employees, as well as an unlimited number of job cuts after June 2018.

ETU secretary Steve Butler accused Essential Energy management of treating their loyal workforce with complete contempt.

“Essential Energy management are holding a gun to the head of their entire workforce, telling them to voluntarily accept cuts to their pay and conditions or face an unprecedented legal move that would see workplace agreements and policies simply torn up,” he said.

“The result of this ballot shows workers won’t accept that kind of treatment, and they are ready and willing to take industrial action and other forms of protest until Essential Energy starts to bargain in good faith by considering the needs of their workforce.

“This is the first time a publicly-owned company has attempted to rip up their own workplace agreement, which had been negotiated in good faith, using it as a tool to threaten massive cuts to wages, conditions and jobs.”

Mr Butler said the company was refusing to budge from their proposal that staff accept a two-year wage freeze, a ban on redundant employees applying for other jobs with the company for two years, a halving of the payment when workers are called in from home to emergencies, and the removal of requirements for private contractors conducting outsourced work to pay appropriate wages and conditions.

“Liberal and National Party MPs should hang their heads in shame,” he said.

In an unprecedented legal attack, NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy this afternoon filed legal proceedings seeking to terminate a range of agreements and policies covering thousands of power workers across the state.

The move to terminate an existing workplace agreement, along with policies covering redundancy provisions, staff redeployments, and salary maintenance, is the first attempt by a publicly-owned corporation to use a controversial legal precedent — set last year — to strip away wages and conditions.

Documents filed with the Fair Work Commission, signed off by Essential Energy CEO Gary Humphreys, confirm that existing job protections and conditions would be lost, with staff instead receiving lower pay and conditions under the Award.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which together represent Essential Energy workers, said the move to tear up the agreement — the week a ballot asking staff whether they support taking industrial action opens — was nothing more than an attempt to intimidate the workforce.

“This is an unprecedented attack by a publicly-owned organisation on its own workers,” USU energy manager Scott McNamara said.

“Either the NSW Government is behind this attempt to carry out unfettered job cuts in rural and regional NSW, or management have gone completely rogue.

“If Essential Energy succeeds in having the existing workplace agreement torn up, thousands of jobs could be cut across NSW, while wages and conditions for the remaining workforce would be slashed.”

ETU assistant secretary Neville Betts called on rural and regional MPs to demand urgent action by the Baird Government to have Essential Energy’s management brought into line.

“Before the election, Mike Baird promised the people of NSW that Essential Energy would remain in public hands, that regional jobs would be secure, and that electricity consumers wouldn’t face a downgrading to local skills and services,” he said.

“Instead, Essential Energy management — either in a rogue move or with the blessing of the NSW Government — has launched an unprecedented legal attack on his own workforce that could see thousands of highly-skilled and loyal workers lose their jobs.

“Regional MPs need to urgently speak up in defence of local workers who are being stood-over and intimidated by management.

“To do anything else would be an admission that the voters of NSW were deliberately deceived about the future of the publicly-owned electricity distributor.”

Mr McNamara also questioned the timing of the application, which came just hours after it was publicly revealed that the Australian Electoral Commission was carrying out a ballot of Essential Energy employees that could result in them taking protected industrial action as early as next month.

“This has all the hallmarks of a heavy-handed attempt to pressure staff ahead of this vote,” he said.

“Management are using the threat of having this workplace agreement terminated entirely to strong-arm staff into signing away conditions in advance.”

A ballot of Essential Energy employees across NSW will decide whether staff at the publicly-owned electricity network take industrial action over a proposal by the company to slash 800 regional jobs and remove key workplace conditions.

The Fair Work Commission has approved the vote, with the Australian Electoral Commission this week distributing ballot papers to thousands of Essential Energy employees.

Essential Energy staff have until March 22 to vote on a range of protest actions, including work stoppages of between one and 72 hours in length, and bans on a range of work practices including overtime, training, paperwork, and the use of computers, mobile phones and other technologies.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent Essential Energy workers, said the industrial action vote was a direct response to a new workplace agreement, proposed by Essential Energy management, that would see the forced sacking of 800 regional employees and allow an unlimited number of further job cuts after June 2018.

The unions said the proposal would also freeze wages for two years, ban employees who are made redundant from applying for other jobs with the company for two years, halve the amount workers are paid when called in during emergencies, and remove a requirement that private contractors doing outsourced work must pay appropriate wages and conditions.

“Industrial action is always a last resort,” ETU assistant secretary Neville Betts said. “Our members would much rather negotiate a fair outcome that protects regional jobs.

“While we remain committed to negotiations, workers were left with few alternatives after Essential Energy circulated a draft agreement that includes massive job cuts, cuts to wages and conditions, and provisions that allow work to be outsourced to unscrupulous contractors.

“If workers vote in support of industrial action, a range of work stoppages or other protest actions could begin as early as next month.”

USU energy manager Scott McNamara said the NSW Government was responsible for a slash-and-burn mentality at the publicly owned company, which put the future of regional jobs and services at risk.

“The Nationals told voters in rural and regional NSW they wouldn’t privatise Essential Energy, but what they didn’t tell them was that they would slash regional jobs and services after the election,” he said.

“Cuts to jobs and conditions inevitably impact on local communities, while also undermining safety, network reliability and response times following emergencies and natural disasters.

“It’s time for Essential Energy to abandon their attacks on thousands of loyal workers and instead negotiate in good faith to reach a fair workplace agreement.”

The Australian Energy Regulator is being urged to strike a better balance between affordability, reliability and safety after the Australian Competition Tribunal today ruled there were flaws in the modelling and assumptions used to set NSW power prices required the process to be conducted again.

The Electrical Trades Union, which represent the workers that maintain and operate the state’s electricity network, said the decision vindicated their argument that massive cuts imposed by the AER were wrong and would negatively impact on service delivery and network reliability.

ETU secretary Steve Butler urged the AER to take a more sensible approach when remaking their determination, with a greater emphasis on striking a balance between price, safety and reliability.

“The people of NSW don’t just need an affordable energy supply, they need one that is reliable, well-maintained and safe,” Mr Butler said.

“Unsustainably slashing the money spent on maintaining, repairing and operating the network simply leads to inadequate infrastructure that may spark bushfires, fail in periods of extreme weather, or result in a growing number of blackouts and service disruptions.”

Mr Butler also hit out at Opposition Leader Luke Foley over his support for the flawed AER process.

“Luke Foley simply has no idea when it comes to delivering an affordable, safe and reliable electricity network that best serves the interests of the people of NSW,” he said.

Steve Butler also said the decision should now force a rethink of the significant job cuts being pursued by Essential Energy, Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.

“Thousands of proposed job cuts being pursued by the publicly-owned electricity companies Essential Energy, Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy, were based on the flawed AER determination and should now be abandoned,” Mr Butler said.

“The loss of loyal, highly-skilled workers across the state is short-sighted and will inevitably impact on consumers through poorer services in the future.”

The decision by the Tribunal includes an order that the AER go back to the drawing board and remake their operating expenditure decision using a broader range of modelling and benchmarking using a "bottom up" approach.

That ruling aligned with the findings of an extensive independent review — commissioned by the ETU and conducted by economist Thomas Devlin —  that identified serious flaws in the AER’s modelling and assumptions including:

  • the use of customer density instead of line length;
  • a failure to breakdown operating expenditure into subcomponents, making it impossible to credibly identify potential drivers of inefficiency;
  • an over-emphasis on labour costs, based on questionable research;
  • a simplistic approach to asset life when comparing networks; and
  • relying on benchmarking rather than a ‘bottom up’ approach considering process and structure.

You can read Thomas Devlin's report and findings here.

The Electrical Trades Union this morning wrote to Premier Mike Baird urging him to send a team of NSW power workers to Fiji to assist with restoring electricity services after the island nation was devastated by Cyclone Winston on the weekend.

The union identified more than two hundred highly trained employees from Ausgrid, Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy that management at the publicly owned electricity network companies have recently withdrawn from frontline work after classifying them as “excess to requirements” or “redeployees”.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said NSW was in a unique position of being able to quickly deploy a team to assist in the rebuilding and repair of Fiji’s electricity network.

“The fact is that once power is restored, other recovery efforts can take place more quickly,” Mr Butler said.

“The publicly owned NSW electricity companies currently have the resources available. All that is required is the political will to accept volunteers from the workforce to travel to Fiji.”

Mr Butler said recent decisions by management at the NSW electricity network companies had left many employees sitting in depots without work to do despite local maintenance backlogs and that these workers could be easily and quickly deployed.

“Many of these workers have simply been told to sit in the depot and not interact with other staff despite local maintenance backlogs,” he said.

“A large number of them would happily volunteer to assist the people of Fiji.

“Not only would that benefit our Pacific neighbour as it attempts to repair a ravaged electricity network and restore power, but it would allow these highly skilled workers to get back to work.”

The union pointed to the response to Cyclone Tracey in 1974, when a team of NSW power workers travelled to Darwin to assist local crews with the mammoth task of reconstruction.

“Assistance may be required from the Commonwealth to liaise with the Fiji Government in order to establish the exact number of power workers and the type of skills that they require, as well as some logistical support, but I would be shocked if such an offer wasn’t welcomed with open arms,” Mr Butler said.

“The ETU has identified how our members are able to assist, but at the end of the day we need to await a response from the Premier.

“Once we get the green light the ETU is ready to work quickly with the NSW Government and the Commonwealth to get these crews in place.”

Mr Butler also suggested that airlines may be able to assist, with relatively empty flights heading to Fiji to accommodate the many Australians wanting to return home.

“If the Premier picks up the phone to some of the airlines, hotels and Canberra there will almost certainly be offers of assistance to get these crews’ to Fiji, and have them fed and accommodated.” he said.

A copy of the ETU's letter to Premier Baird can be viewed here.

A draft workplace agreement produced by Essential Energy, which includes clauses allowing the immediately forcible sacking of 800 regional employees and an unlimited number of job cuts after June 2018, was rejected by workplace delegates from around the state at a meeting in Sydney today.

More than 50 Essential Energy delegates, representing colleagues from workplaces and depots across NSW, met to examine the agreement which was provided to staff this week by management.

The proposed agreement strips employees of a range of conditions and outlines massive job cuts across rural and regional NSW, with clauses in the draft Essential Energy enterprise agreement seeking to:

- cut 800 full time jobs, using forced redundancies;
- allow unlimited job cuts from July 2018;
- deem all currently redeployed staff as “excess employees” and, if no position is immediately available for them, make them redundant;
- ban employees who have been made redundant from being re-employed by the company within two years, unless it is a casual or temporary job and has the CEOs approval;
- halve the amount workers are paid when they are called into work in emergencies, from a minimum of four hours pay to just two;
- remove requirements that when work is outsourced, the private contractors must pay appropriate wages and conditions; and
- implement a two year wage freeze.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent Essential Energy workers, said the proposal was the latest in a series of savage cuts that threatened the NSW Government-owned electricity network’s ability to provide reliable and safe services to rural and regional NSW.

“This proposal is an attack on Essential Energy employees and their communities that would result in massive cuts to services and jobs in regional NSW,” ETU Secretary Steve Butler said.

“Since 2013, the number of Essential Energy employees across regional NSW has been slashed by more than 1,000, and if this agreement is approved a further 800 jobs would be axed immediately.

“Enterprise bargaining generally means that if you give something up you get something in return, but it seems Essential Energy management think it’s a one-way street.

“Not only is Essential Energy wanting to sack people, but they want to slash working conditions for remaining staff as well as implement a two-year wage freeze that will leave people worse off.

“The NSW Government seems intent on slashing regional jobs at Essential Energy, which threatens service standards while maximising the profits they take from rural and regional electricity customers.”

USU energy manager Scott McNamara said workplace delegates had made clear at today’s meeting that this proposal was simply unacceptable.

“Regional communities across NSW are facing a double whammy from the NSW Nationals as they push ahead with council amalgamations as well as regional job cuts at Essential Energy,” he said.

“Workplace delegates today reaffirmed their commitment to negotiating a new agreement in good faith and considering any proposal that contained reasonable options.

“But they refuse to stand by while jobs, services and standards are cut across regional NSW.”