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.”