ETU Media Releases

Publicly owned electricity distributor Essential Energy has today been granted permission to slash 600 regional jobs across NSW following a decision of the full bench of the Fair Work Commission, with forced redundancies expected to commence within weeks.

The decision also removed any restriction of forced job cuts from 1 July 2018, allowing an unlimited number of highly-skilled power workers from rural and regional communities across the state to be axed.

The written decision also revealed that Essential Energy management intends to use outsourcing to carry out further cuts, with the company’s eventual target seeing in one in every two jobs go, allowing the size of their workforce to be halved to 1,600 employees by the 2019 financial year.

The FWC rejected a submission from power unions that no redundancies occur before the Christmas New Year period, allowing Essential Energy to move on redundancies within weeks.

The decision will permit NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy to:
- make up to 600 staff forcibly redundant by 30 June 2018;
- have an unlimited number of additional workers leave the company during the same time period if they accept a voluntary redundancies;
- make an unlimited number of staff forcibly redundant from 1 July 2018; and
- replace regional employees with outsourced contractors.

The FWC made the decision despite admitting that its ruling could be expected to have a substantial impact on workers and regional communities, with the written determination stating:

“In the case of Essential Energy, the effects are magnified because of the specialist skills of many of the employees involved, the location of Essential Energy’s depots in country towns scattered throughout NSW, and the scale of redundancies that have already occurred and will likely occur in the future...

“Employees located in country towns will find it difficult to obtain alternative work, either of a comparable standard or at all, in their current locations… Job opportunities are generally limited, and jobs involving the specialist skills of electrical tradespersons formerly employed by Essential Energy are virtually non-existent...

“It is likely that many redundant employees will have to relocate themselves and their families in order to obtain alternative employment. This will necessarily have direct personal effects on employees and their family members in having to change their house, community and school. It may also have effects on smaller towns in terms of the loss of income able to be spent locally and a possible diminution in community involvement.”

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which together represent the majority of Essential Energy workers, slammed the decision and urged the NSW Government to intervene.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said his union had made multiple attempt to contact new National Party leader John Barilaro, by phone, email and SMS, but so far had received no response.

“This is the time for the National Party to finally stand up for regional NSW and to demand an end to the wholesale axing of quality jobs by publicly-owned organisations across the state,” he said.

“Today’s decision means that, within the next two years, up to 1,600 highly-skilled power workers who live and work in regional NSW could be without a job.

“The economic and social impact of such huge job cuts — which will tear hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economies of rural communities — will be untold human suffering in the communities the National Party claims to represent.

“This is our challenge for John Barilaro: show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange byelection, stop towing the Baird Government’s line, and demand that this publicly-owned company not press ahead with these wholesale job cuts.”

ETU Organiser Justin Page said the ETU were also seeking an assistance package from the NSW Government to provide help for any Essential Energy workers that lose their jobs, including with retraining, small business advice, and recognition of skills and training.

“This decision is one of the biggest blows to employment in regional NSW that has ever occurred,” Mr Page said.

“John Barilaro is now facing his first challenge in his new role as National Party leader and NSW Deputy Premier, and that is to stick up for regional workers and communities directly impacted by this decision.

“The NSW Government, as the owner of 100 per cent of Essential Energy, has the power to intervene and save these jobs.

“All that is needed is for John Barilaro and his National Party colleagues to demand that their coalition partners in the NSW Government put the interests of regional communities ahead of their attempts to squeeze profits out of public companies.”

New Nationals leader John Barilaro will today face his first opportunity to defend regional jobs and services, with the full bench of the Fair Work Commission handing down a long-awaited decision that may allow the publicly-owned electricity distributor to make hundreds of workers forcibly redundant.

Mr Barilaro’s predecessor Troy Grant repeatedly failed to intervene after the NSW Government-owned company took the unprecedented step of applying to unilaterally terminate an existing workplace agreement, which would allow it to remove existing job protections, as well as cutting pay and conditions.

The Electrical Trades Union said the former leadership of the National Party had repeatedly failed to stand up to their Liberal masters in Macquarie Street, with cuts to jobs and services contributing to the shock defeat of the party in the Orange byelection.

The union highlighted written media releases from Mr Barilaro ahead of the 2015 election, saying his new position as party leader and Deputy Premier meant it was time for him to put these pledges into action.

The statements include: “I support lower electricity prices, but I will always lead the charge in protecting local electricity jobs” (9/3/2015), and “a key priority for this government is about creating and securing local jobs” (17/3/2015).

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said the decision, to be handed down at 10.30am in Sydney, was the first test of whether the National Party under the leadership of John Barilaro would fight to protect regional jobs.

“Before the election, John Barilaro talked a good game, making firm promises that he would lead the charge to protect regional jobs,” Mr McKinley said.

“This week, with all the power that comes from being Deputy Premier and leader of the National Party, he has chance to put those words into action.

“If, as feared, the Fair Work Commission opens the floodgates to forced redundancies at Essential Energy, we could see hundreds of highly skilled jobs lost from regional NSW.

“The NSW Government, as the owner of 100 per cent of the company, has the ability to act and save these jobs. All that is missing is the political will.”

Mr McKinley also urged Mr Barilaro to meet with power workers and their unions to discuss the impact of job cuts, outsourcing, reductions to maintenance, and privatisation, all of which were harming the regional communities the National Party claims to represent.

“This is Mr Barilaro’s first chance to show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange byelection result and that they are willing to listen to their constituents and use their power within the NSW Government to defend regional jobs and services,” he said.

“If Mr Barilaro fails this test, delivering more of the same behavior of his predecessor, he simply guarantees the community backlash against the National Party will only grow by the next election.”