ETU Media Releases

Our Living Standards; Our Voice

Posted on 17-12-2014

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The Electrical Trades Union is appalled at attempts by former Ausgrid CEO George Maltabarow to blame the wages and conditions of hard working power industry employees for high power prices, describing his claims as baseless smears.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said it was extremely hypocritical for Mr Maltabarow to attack the income of power workers given he was previously the highest paid public servant in NSW, on a salary of more than $882,000, while front line Ausgrid workers were paid close to the average Australian wage.

“In 2009, George Maltabarow received a performance bonus of $135,450 on top of his generous salary,” Mr Butler said.

“Then, in 2010, he received a 14 per cent pay rise, taking his salary to $882,688.

“During that same time period, front line power workers — the people who have been out every day restoring electricity as Sydney has been lashed by wild weather — received no bonus and a modest 4 per cent pay rise.

“Only last month, the NSW Auditor General found that NSW power workers had delivered cost savings of $3 billion over the past three years through improved efficiency.”

Mr Butler said increases to power bills during the past five years were the result of increased investment in the network, not the small pay increases awarded to highly skilled power workers.

“During the last pricing determination delivered by the Australian Energy Regulator in 2009, Mr Maltabarow fought the regulator tooth and nail to get approval to spend $8 billion on upgrades,” he said.

“It was this investment that was the main driver of price increases, not the wages and conditions of hard working and committed power workers.

“I recall a meeting where Mr Maltabarow actually thought it was clever that he and his executive team were able to get so much money out of the federal regulator at the expense of NSW families.”

The union said Mr Maltabarow’s claim that the ETU restricted the use of contractors was also untrue.

“It was actually at the request of George Maltabarow that a memorandum of understanding was introduced around the use of contractors in order to deliver the huge amount of work required off the back of his $8 billion network upgrade demand,” Mr Butler said.

“Chief executives come and go, but the one thing they seem to have in common is the ability to find someone else to blame for their failures.

“On the other hand, the front line power workers who perform dangerous and highly skilled work, such as during the recent storms experiences across Sydney, are always there, getting on with the job at hand.”

 

Facts about Ausgrid workers and employment conditions:

Claim: Ausgrid workers get extensive private use of company motor vehicles.

Reality: Ausgrid workers use company vehicles in their day to day work. Currently three frontline workers at Ausgrid have limited private use of company motor vehicles, no other employees are entitled to private use of company motor vehicles.

Approximately 300 staff including Emergency Services Operators and District Operators – frontline workers who respond to emergency incidents such as motor vehicle accidents, building fires and wires down – currently have access to company vehicles when driving to and from work but no private use.

All other employees use company vehicles stored at depots for work purposes during work hours only.

Claim: Ausgrid workers get 26% superannuation.

Reality: Ausgrid workers, like all workers, receive the current 9.5% Superannuation Guarantee Levy (SGL).

Between 2006 and 2012 Ausgrid workers voted to accept lower wage increases in return for an additional 1% per year in superannuation totaling 6% in order to achieve what former Treasurer Paul Keating said was an acceptable level of superannuation as people continue to live longer. As a result of these past trade off’s the majority of Ausgrid workers currently receive 15% superannuation.

Approximately 1,314 Ausgrid workers currently contribute between 1% and 9% of their own money into superannuation on top of the 9.5% SGL and 6% past tradeoffs to receive up to 26% superannuation.

Claim: Ausgrid workers receive generous Long Service Leave entitlements.

Reality: Ausgrid employees accrue long service leave at the rate of 13 weeks for ten years of service which is similar to many other employers across Australia.

Employees who show a long term commitment to serving the people of NSW currently accrue long service leave at a rate 1.7 weeks for the period between 10 years of service and 15 years of service which is the statutory accrual rate in NSW, while employee’s with more than 15 years of service currently accrue 2.7 weeks per year for each year of service over and above 15 years.

These Long Service Leave arrangements have existed in the industry for more than 30 years to encourage the retention of highly skilled trade’s people in a highly technical industry.

These long service leave entitlements do not apply to all workers currently employed by Ausgrid as many workers have less than ten years’ service or leave prior to their ten year anniversary.

Claim: Ausgrid workers get paid overtime to travel to and from work.

Reality: Ausgrid workers travel to and from work in their own time and are not paid to drive to and from their ordinary place of work.

As with many other workplaces should an employee be called in to work after hours by management or should an employee be directed by management to work from a location other than that employees ordinary place of work that employee is paid a small allowance to cover any costs incurred.

This is not a regular occurrence and is always initiated by a management decision. 

Claim: Ausgrid Workers receive 4 hours pay for overtime even if they don’t work 4 hours.

Reality: Ausgrid workers who are called out for afterhours work at short notice and who are not required to be available for afterhours work as a part of their roster in some cases receive four hours pay for call out work. It remains a decision of management to call out workers for afterhours work, is generally only for high priority, safety or emergency situations and is not a regular occurrence.

Ausgrid workers are committed and dedicated to serving the public and as a result many workers sacrifice time with their families to respond at short notice and outside their normal rostered hours to dangerous situations as requested by management.

Management have agreed and signed off on workplace agreements that provide 4 hours pay to workers in such circumstances as fair compensation for responding to irregular and high priority situations.

Claim: Ausgrid workers who accept a job at a lower rate continue to get paid a higher salary.

Reality: Ausgrid workers who are displaced from their position by a decision of management, including restructures and are forced to accept a lower paying role currently receive salary maintenance for a period of one year. Salary maintenance results directly from management decisions and is not guaranteed beyond one year.

Ausgrid workers who initiate a transfer to a lower paying job do not receive salary maintenance.

Claim: NSW Power workers are paid too much and have better conditions than power workers in Victoria.

Reality: Power workers in NSW and Victoria have similar employment conditions and rates of pay.

Rates of pay for full time adult workers in NSW range from $44,774 for entry level positions to $143,572 for highly skilled and highly experienced supervisory/management positions. In Victoria entry level rates are $47,290 ranging up to highly skilled supervisory and management positions of $132,626.

The overwhelming majority of frontline power workers earn close to the Australian average adult wage of $78,878. As in all businesses some people earn more than this depending on their skill, experience and responsibilities while others earn less.

Power industry workers in Victoria received three wage increases between December 2011 and August 2013 of 4.5%, 4.5% and 5% while NSW power workers received two pay increases of 2.7% each in 2012 and 2013.

While individual elements of employment agreements may differ the take home pay of power industry workers in NSW and Victoria are comparable. There has been a concerted campaign by the NSW Government, Networks NSW and the NSW power companies to “cherry pick” employment conditions in an attempt to smear power industry workers.

Power industry unions are warning NSW consumers to expect increased blackouts, reduced safety, and massive cuts to jobs and training following the federal energy regulator’s proposal to slash electricity network spending by up to 60 per cent.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent the majority of the 12,000 Ausgrid, Endeavour and Essential employees across NSW, said the Australian Energy Regulator’s draft determination would impose drastic cuts to the money available to run, maintain and upgrade electricity infrastructure during the next five years.

Off the back of major infrastructure upgrades during the past five years, which have increased reliability and capacity in times of peak demand, the network businesses had sought to reduce expenditure by 40 per cent.

The AER rejected that proposal, instead delivering cuts of up to 60 per cent, which if implemented will result in more than 4,600 job losses across the state.

The unions said these cuts would come on top of 2,300 jobs already lost at Ausgrid, Endeavour and Essential since July 2012, almost halving the size of the workforce in just a few years.

“Massive expenditure cuts of this scale, introduced overnight, will have a massive impact on the reliability of electricity services and the safety of workers and members of the public,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“Blackouts will be more likely on the hottest and coldest days, as power demand surges, reconnections will be slower following natural disasters, bushfire risks are likely to increase, and the safety of workers and the public will be put at risk.

“It will also see thousands of jobs cut, many in rural and regional NSW, as well as all but eliminate any intake of apprentices across the sector over the next five years.

“For the federal regulator to impose cuts so far in excess of what the electricity network businesses themselves recommended — without any risk assessment on the impact to safety and reliability — reveals a complete failure to consider the public interest.”

USU energy manager Scott McNamara said the AER report had made no provision for redundancies, requiring job reductions that were unsafe and illegal under current enterprise agreements.

“The energy regulator has completely failed to examine how cuts of this magnitude would take place, with no provision for the redundancy payments that would be needed for thousands of workers, and no examination of how it will impact safety,” he said.

“These job cuts are not only illegal under the current enterprise agreements, but they would breach the Federal Government’s own Fair Work Act.

“These cuts claim to be modelled on practices in Victoria and South Australia, but the AER fails to acknowledge the fact that both these states suffer from load shedding — where power has to be cut to consumers because the network can’t meet demand.

“In Victoria, more than 100 lives were lost on Black Saturday in bushfires a royal commission found were sparked by poor maintenance on the electricity network.

“The AER would see a reduction of $460 million in the next four years in the money spent on managing vegetation around power lines to reduce bushfire risk.

“The last thing we want is for the people of NSW to end up with poorer services and reduced safety because the Federal Government’s energy regulator imposes unsustainable cuts to our electricity network.”

The unions said that, like the network businesses, they would be making submission to the draft determination opposing the scale of the cuts.

“The AER have got it wrong by not taking into consideration legal obligations and true operational requirements of the network businesses,” Mr Butler said.

“We believe in a publicly owned electricity network that is efficient, safe and affordable.

“A slash and burn approach to spending will deliver the opposite outcome, which would be bad for consumers throughout the state.”

A potentially fatal electrical safety breach during construction of the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour has led to more than 40 electricians refusing to carry out non-emergency work.

All electrical workers on the site — employees of major electrical contractors Stowe Australia and Fredon — yesterday voted to halt work following a meeting of the safety committee, where they indicated they had no confidence in the ability of builder Lend Lease to provide a safe workplace.

The decision follows an incident where an electrician had “locked out” a switchboard, ensuring a circuit remained off while electrical work was carried out.

When the electricians finished work for the day, a Lend Lease foreman allegedly ordered another worker to use an angle grinder to cut off the padlock and restore power to the circuit. The following morning an electrical worker was just moments from being electrocuted when he recommenced work on what he believed was still a de-energised circuit.

The Electrical Trades Union said the incident, a clear breach of basic safety precautions, had almost led to the fourth fatality on a Sydney construction site in less than a fortnight.

“It is an industry standard that electricians use special padlocks to ‘lock out’ switch boards and other electrical equipment, preventing power from being restored to circuits that are currently being worked on,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“These large padlocks include a written warning explaining that the circuit is locked out, with only the electrician that installed the lock authorised to remove it, for obvious safety reasons.

“It is extremely concerning that a Lend Lease foreman would deliberately breach this procedure by ordering a worker to cut the lock off and restore power, with no warning to electricians that this had taken place.”

Mr Butler said workers were also concerned that it had taken almost a week for Lend Lease to report the incident to WorkCover NSW, and that the safety regulator had said it would not be investigating the breach.

“The union is demanding that both Lend Lease and WorkCover NSW conduct a thorough investigation of how basic safety practices were suspended, putting lives at risk,” he said.

“Lend Lease is currently responsible for several major construction sites across Sydney, including Barangaroo, with workers complaining of systemic safety issues across these projects.

“In this case, an essential and long-standing safety practice — an electrician ‘locking out’ a circuit that was currently undergoing work — was completely disregarded, putting lives at risk.

As a result electrical workers have been left with no choice but to halt work and only respond to emergencies until Lend Lease can ensure their safety.

“It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that basic safety practices be undertaken to ensure every worker is able to return home safely to their family each night.”


The Electrical Trades Union has issued a health warning to outdoor workers across NSW due to the serious risk of heat related illnesses as extreme temperatures look set to continue for several days.

The notice reminds workers of the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and highlights the health and safety requirements for managing work in high temperatures.

These requirements include a mandatory stop to work when temperatures exceed 38 degrees, with a risk assessment then undertaken to determine if it is safe to continue work. Such work should be limited to fault repairs, emergency situations, or the finalisation of current work, with no new work commencing.

For temperatures between 28 degrees and 38 degrees, a minimum 15 minute break per hour worked and regular intakes of cool water are required to manage heat risks.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said extreme temperatures, particularly over a sustained number of days, risk overloading the natural cooling mechanisms of the human body.

“Extreme heat can cause a range of health problems, from the uncomfortable to the potentially deadly,” Mr Butler said.

“With sustained high temperatures over several days, exceeding 40 degrees in some areas, it is essential that people working outdoors are aware of appropriate measures to manage the heat.

“Our union has produced a detailed policy for working in heat, while individual employers should have a heat management policy in place and WorkCover NSW also has a code of practice for managing hot work environments.”

The union said possible health effects faced by outdoor workers include heat rashes, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and in the most extreme cases heat stroke.

“Heat exhaustion is related to a rapid loss of body fluids, with those workers unable to have enough to drink or those suffering from illnesses such as diarrhoea at particular risk,” Mr Butler said.

“It is essential to keep an eye out for workmates, with warning signs including pale and clammy skin, thirst, fatigue, tiredness, nausea and vomiting.

“Heat stroke, which can be potentially fatal, is more likely when high temperatures are combined with high humidity, with symptoms including flushing, hot dry skin, headache, drowsiness, convulsions, delirium and even collapse.

“Workers and their employers should take appropriate action to manage the risk, with regular breaks, the consumption of cool water, and an immediate halt to work when the mercury is above 38.

“When assessing the risk it is also essential to be aware that thermal radiation from the sun, and high humidity, both exacerbate the risk posed by hot temperatures.

The NSW Auditor-General’s report on the publicly owned electricity businesses, released to parliament today, has highlighted that NSW would be $1.3 billion a year worse off if the Liberals and Nationals get their way with electricity privatisation.

The report reported that total revenue to the NSW Treasury, in the form of dividends and tax equivalents, was a bumper $1.7 billion last financial year.

Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake said that had Premier Mike Baird’s privatisation of half the electricity been in place, it would have meant the loss of $436 million in dividends, and $829 million in income tax equivalents.

“Following Mike Baird’s privatisation, the people of NSW will no longer receive this income, leaving a massive $1.3 billion-a-year hole in the State’s finances,” Mr Kerslake said.

Mr Kerslake said the Auditor-General’s report had also undermined efforts by Treasurer Andrew Constance to blame workers for power price rises, revealing that efficiency improvements delivered by those electricity workers had saved consumers $3 billion over the last three years.

“Power workers have been delivering major efficiency improvements across the network, reducing costs while at the same time cutting the number of customers who experienced blackouts,” he said.

“The Auditor General found that increased service reliability was also the direct result of a $15.2 billion network upgrade carried out since 2009.”

The report did come under fire for relying on inaccurate and out-of-date data — supplied by corporate advisor EY to the NSW Treasury — to argue that NSW electricity users pay the highest price for power.

“On consumer pricing, the Auditor-General has got it wrong, but only because they have relied on inaccurate and outdated data from a politically motivated report produced for the NSW Treasury,” Mr Kerslake said.

“That report compares NSW prices from 2012 to South Australian prices from 2010 to conclude that NSW electricity bills are the highest in the country.

“On the other hand, the latest report from the Federal Government’s Australian Energy Regulator, based on data from 2013, found South Australia has the highest average electricity bill — at $2,335 per annum — while the average NSW consumer pays $1,960.

“Despite his best efforts to drive his ideological privatisation agenda, the numbers simply don’t add up for Premier Mike Baird.”

Power workers across the Hunter Valley, Central Coast and Sydney have commenced wage negotiations with the publicly owned power company Ausgrid.

Unions, on behalf of workers, have tabled documents seeking a modest pay rise and increased job protections ahead of the NSW Government’s plans to privatise the states poles and wires.

Power industry union’s tabled documents ahead of negotiations seeking a 4 per cent wage increase, which represents a small pay rise with inflation currently running at 3 per cent, while having almost no impact on household power prices.

Economic modelling shows that the union’s wage claim would have a minimal impact on electricity bills, representing an yearly increase of just $5.92 for the average power bill, or just eleven cents per week.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said it was a small price when it comes to maintaining a highly skilled workforce who are dedicated to serving the people of NSW during time of emergency, like during bushfires or the recent storms.

Mr Butler also said that the workforce had shown constraint while being concerned for the future of their jobs as the government prepares Ausgrid for privatisation.

“What we have at the commencement of these negotiations is a sensible and very modest claim from the workforce,” Mr Butler said.

“These workers are concerned about the NSW Governments plans to privatise the State’s poles and wires, which creates an uncertain future for jobs right across the network.

“We have had economic modelling carried out which shows that a wage increase of 4 per cent will have a very small impact on power prices in the range of eleven cents per week for the average NSW electricity bill.

“Given the dangerous nature of the industry and the 24 hour emergency call out environment that these workers operate in we believe this would be a fair outcome from the negotiations.

“Power workers are also keen to secure a range of job security measures ahead of the government privatisation plans.

“These measures have zero cost impact but provide workers and their families with certainty and security.

“Given the NSW Government wants to privatise Ausgrid we are hoping that the Premier and management will take this into consideration during negotiations and offer workers greater job security and the protections that they are seeking.

“We know that the public are feeling pressure from power prices and that is why we have taken a sensible and fair approach to these wage negotiations.

“On average, power workers in NSW earn the Australian average adult wage of $78,878 a year, which is comparable with power workers from other states including Victoria.

“The workers common sense approach to maintaining existing conditions while seeking greater job security and a modest wage increase is in stark contrast to Ausgrid management who appear more interested in picking a fight with their workforce in the lead up to the government’s privatisation plans.

“It’s disappointing that the company appears to be shaping up for a combative round of negotiations when all the workers really want is a fair go when it comes to a small pay rise and future job security.”

 

Facts about Ausgrid workers and employment conditions:

Claim: Ausgrid workers get extensive private use of company motor vehicles.

Reality: Ausgrid workers use company vehicles in their day to day work. Currently three frontline workers at Ausgrid have limited private use of company motor vehicles, no other employees are entitled to private use of company motor vehicles.

Approximately 300 staff including Emergency Services Operators and District Operators – frontline workers who respond to emergency incidents such as motor vehicle accidents, building fires and wires down – currently have access to company vehicles when driving to and from work but no private use.

All other employees use company vehicles stored at depots for work purposes during work hours only.

Claim: Ausgrid workers get 26% superannuation.

Reality: Ausgrid workers, like all workers, receive the current 9.5% Superannuation Guarantee Levy (SGL).

Between 2006 and 2012 Ausgrid workers voted to accept lower wage increases in return for an additional 1% per year in superannuation totaling 6% in order to achieve what former Treasurer Paul Keating said was an acceptable level of superannuation as people continue to live longer. As a result of these past trade off’s the majority of Ausgrid workers currently receive 15% superannuation.

Approximately 1,314 Ausgrid workers currently contribute between 1% and 9% of their own money into superannuation on top of the 9.5% SGL and 6% past tradeoffs to receive up to 26% superannuation.

Claim: Ausgrid workers receive generous Long Service Leave entitlements.

Reality: Ausgrid employees accrue long service leave at the rate of 13 weeks for ten years of service which is similar to many other employers across Australia.

Employees who show a long term commitment to serving the people of NSW currently accrue long service leave at a rate 1.7 weeks for the period between 10 years of service and 15 years of service which is the statutory accrual rate in NSW, while employee’s with more than 15 years of service currently accrue 2.7 weeks per year for each year of service over and above 15 years.

These Long Service Leave arrangements have existed in the industry for more than 30 years to encourage the retention of highly skilled trade’s people in a highly technical industry.

These long service leave entitlements do not apply to all workers currently employed by Ausgrid as many workers have less than ten years’ service or leave prior to their ten year anniversary.

Claim: Ausgrid workers get paid overtime to travel to and from work.

Reality: Ausgrid workers travel to and from work in their own time and are not paid to drive to and from their ordinary place of work.

As with many other workplaces should an employee be called in to work after hours by management or should an employee be directed by management to work from a location other than that employees ordinary place of work that employee is paid a small allowance to cover any costs incurred.

This is not a regular occurrence and is always initiated by a management decision. 

Claim: Ausgrid Workers receive 4 hours pay for overtime even if they don’t work 4 hours.

Reality: Ausgrid workers who are called out for afterhours work at short notice and who are not required to be available for afterhours work as a part of their roster in some cases receive four hours pay for call out work. It remains a decision of management to call out workers for afterhours work, is generally only for high priority, safety or emergency situations and is not a regular occurrence.

Ausgrid workers are committed and dedicated to serving the public and as a result many workers sacrifice time with their families to respond at short notice and outside their normal rostered hours to dangerous situations as requested by management.

Management have agreed and signed off on workplace agreements that provide 4 hours pay to workers in such circumstances as fair compensation for responding to irregular and high priority situations.

Claim: Ausgrid workers who accept a job at a lower rate continue to get paid a higher salary.

Reality: Ausgrid workers who are displaced from their position by a decision of management, including restructures and are forced to accept a lower paying role currently receive salary maintenance for a period of one year. Salary maintenance results directly from management decisions and is not guaranteed beyond one year.

Ausgrid workers who initiate a transfer to a lower paying job do not receive salary maintenance.

Claim: NSW Power workers are paid too much and have better conditions than power workers in Victoria.

Reality: Power workers in NSW and Victoria have similar employment conditions and rates of pay.

Rates of pay for full time adult workers in NSW range from $44,774 for entry level positions to $143,572 for highly skilled and highly experienced supervisory/management positions. In Victoria entry level rates are $47,290 ranging up to highly skilled supervisory and management positions of $132,626.

The overwhelming majority of frontline power workers earn close to the Australian average adult wage of $78,878. As in all businesses some people earn more than this depending on their skill, experience and responsibilities while others earn less.

Power industry workers in Victoria received three wage increases between December 2011 and August 2013 of 4.5%, 4.5% and 5% while NSW power workers received two pay increases of 2.7% each in 2012 and 2013.

While individual elements of employment agreements may differ the take home pay of power industry workers in NSW and Victoria are comparable. There has been a concerted campaign by the NSW Government, Networks NSW and the NSW power companies to “cherry pick” employment conditions in an attempt to smear power industry workers.

NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance has today demonstrated complete hypocrisy, attacking employment conditions received by electricity workers during emergency incidents while accepting a myriad of taxpayer funded entitlements, including generous travel expenses and a chauffeur driven car.

Mr Constance today described a clause that allows Endeavour Energy employees to be paid for travel time when called to respond to emergency incidents outside of their normal work hours as an “outrageous” perk.

The Electrical Trades Union said the provision only applied to times where motor vehicle accidents, storms, blackouts or major faults cut power services and specialist workers were called in to immediately restore the electricity.

ETU secretary Steve Butler described the comments as a shameful, politically motivated attack aimed at turning the public against electricity workers in retaliation for their campaign against the Baird Government’s plans to privatise the publicly owned poles and wires.

“The Treasurer has not only shown complete contempt for the thousands of electricity workers who are called in following fires, floods and other natural disasters, but he seems completely oblivious to his complete hypocrisy,” Mr Butler said.

“The conditions of employment that the Treasurer has claimed are ‘outrageous’ are not everyday conditions, but only apply when specialist workers are called in after hours to restore power during emergency situations and blackouts.

“While the alleged perk cost taxpayers $1.8 million, Andrew Constance single handedly receives more than $400,000 from taxpayers each and every year.

“In addition to his $249,733 salary, $38,881 for additional expenses, electoral allowance of $92,785, ‘Sydney Allowance’ of $278 a day plus $99.95 per day for meals, the Treasurer also enjoys the luxury of a chauffeur driven car.

“It shows complete contempt for the frontline workers who regularly risk their lives in order to serve the public when they are attacked by a government minister for receiving entitlements that are modest at best and have little to no impact on overall power prices.

“This shameful attack was politically motivated and is simply an attempt to turn the community against hard working electricity workers as payback for their opposition to privatisation.

“Mr Constance owes an apology to the thousands of electricity workers across NSW.”

Thousands of workers that tirelessly run the NSW electricity network woke this morning to an unprecedented attack from their own management, with veiled threats that they face a choice between cuts to their wages and conditions, or mass outsourcing of jobs.

Power industry unions described the attack by Networks NSW CEO Vince Graham — the highest paid public servant in the state — as a cowardly act aimed at running the political agenda of his Liberal Party masters in Macquarie Street.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent thousands of workers at Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid, said Mr Graham was using selective facts and misinformation to falsely blame workers for high power prices.

“Not only has Mr Graham launched an unprecedented attack on his own workforce — falsely telling every power consumer in NSW that these workers are the reason for their high power bills — but he has also issued a veiled threat to their very jobs,” USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said.

“By claiming that wages and conditions will inevitably ‘drive the outsourcing of existing jobs’, Mr Graham has issued an ultimatum to thousands of workers to either accept pay cuts or lose their jobs.

“This is an extraordinary action for a CEO, is terrible for staff morale, and creates division and animosity in the workplace and the broader community.”

The unions said that wages actually make up less than $200 of the annual power bills of the average family, with the dividends paid to the NSW Government adding more than double that amount.

“Every year the average NSW family pays $450 in their power bills that go directly to the NSW Government as profits, which is more than double the cost of the workforce that ensure reliable, safe electricity is provided to homes across the state,” Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said.

“During the last two years, NSW power workers received pay increases of just 2.45 per cent, which added less than fifty cents per month to the average electricity customer.

“Meanwhile, Vince Graham’s salary package increased by a whopping 27 per cent last year, taking his total package to almost $1 million and making him the highest paid public servant in NSW.”

Mr Kelly said that Vince Graham had also failed to acknowledge the fact that South Australia, which privatised electricity in the 1990’s, had the highest electricity prices in the nation, while privately-run power in Victoria delivered identical prices to the public network in NSW.

“Wages and conditions in the NSW power industry are in line with other states, including those with privatised power networks, because without competitive wages, highly skilled professionals would leave the workforce,” Mr Kelly said.

 

SOME FACTS ABOUT ELECTRICITY WORKERS

  • Power industry Workers are highly skilled and work in a dangerous industry where workplace fatalities are not uncommon.
  • Wages and conditions in the NSW power industry are consistent with other States, including those with privatised power networks.

  • Profits, paid to the NSW Government as dividends, contribute $450 per year to the average power bill, wages make up $198, or just 11.4 per cent, of bills.

  • According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average Australian wage is $78,878, a category the vast majority of NSW power industry workers fit in to.

  • Over the last two years, NSW power workers received pay increases of 2.45 per cent, adding less than fifty cents per month to the bill of an average electricity customer.

  • These wage rises were part of ensuring that NSW retained the highly skilled and qualified workforce required to reconnect power during times of need, such as during the extreme weather experienced across NSW this week.

  • The head of Network NSW Vince Graham fails to mention that last year his package increased by 27 per cent, making him the highest paid public servant in NSW with a package approaching $1 million.

  • Some contractors may pay lower wages, they often take short cuts to reduce costs, potentially placing members of the public at risk.

  • The ETU supports delivering competitive electricity prices to consumers, but we disagree that using cheaper contractors that take short cuts is the best way to achieve this.

Energy workers on the Central Coast fear they have been exposed to asbestos fibres after contamination tests carried out by a specialist hygienist confirmed the presence of the deadly substance at the Ausgrid depot in Noraville.

Electrical Trades Union spokesman Mark Buttigieg said it was believed that the asbestos fibres were disturbed during the process of transferring equipment from the soon-to-be retired Noraville depot to a new Ausgrid facility at Ourimbah.

“What we believe has happened is that a number of boxes have been disturbed during the move between depots, resulting in airborne asbestos fibres being detected at the Noraville depot,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“The union immediately advised all members not to enter the Noraville depot until further testing can take place and required remedial work is carried out.

“We are also advising members not to go anywhere near the new stores depot at Ourimbah, as this is where the material that is suspected of being contaminated has been transported to.

“What is most disturbing is that the workers did not find out about the contamination and potential exposure from management, but from a contractor.

“It was not until management were confronted that they admitted a positive result to airborne asbestos had been received.

“All it takes is a single fibre to become lodged in a person’s lungs and that person could face a long and painful death from mesothelioma – a cancer caused only by asbestos.

“Given the serious nature of airborne asbestos, the ETU would have expected management to act swiftly to notify the local workforce of the test results.

“It is very disappointing that they had to find out through other means.

“We are continuing to work with management to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to fix this situation and we have advised any members that were in the vicinity to complete a record of potential exposure to asbestos.”