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Unions forced to call off ban on training Ausgrid’s overseas replacement workers; call on owners to intervene

Paul Lister - Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Power unions have been forced to lift a ban on training overseas consultants hired by electricity distributor Ausgrid to replace 35 workers from Newcastle and Sydney after the Fair Work Commission threatened to issue orders against them.

Members of the United Services Union and Electrical Trades Union had been refusing to take part in training India-based IT contractors that will replace more than a third of the workforce in Ausgrid’s Geographic Information System section.

The electricity distributor launched legal action against the unions in the Fair Work Commission, with the matter heard yesterday by FWC deputy president Peter Sams.

Deputy President Sams issued a recommendation to the unions, saying he would issue binding orders against them unless the training ban was immediately lifted.

ETU secretary Dave McKinley said the outcome of the case was clear evidence that Australia’s industrial laws were stacked against the interests of working people.

“What was made clear was that — under Australia’s current workplace laws — it is unlawful for someone to take an ethical stand and refuse to train overseas contractors who have been hired to take the jobs of their colleagues,” Mr McKinley said.

“Not only does the Fair Work Act fail to protect quality local jobs, it actually prevents people from following their conscience — effectively forcing them to be part of the process of replacing friends and colleagues.

“We have agreed to lift our bans — under legal duress — but we are still looking at all available avenues to save these 35 jobs from being sent to India under the deal between Ausgrid management and Tata Consultancy Services.”

USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said it was now up to the new private owners of Ausgrid — AustralianSuper and IFM Investors — to intervene to save the jobs.

“These funds claim to ethically invest the retirement savings of Australian workers, yet they are allowing managers at a company they majority-own to slash jobs by outsourcing them to India,” Mr Kelly said.

“These investors should demonstrate their commitment to Australian jobs by ensuring these specialist positions remain in this country.

“They should also commit to abiding by the spirit of the job protections that were put in place by the NSW Parliament to prevent power privatisation from being a tool to simply slash jobs and services.

“We are also calling on the NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin to take action to ensure the state’s electricity network is operated by skilled local workers.”

Unions slam Sunshine Sugar for moving meeting to asbestos mill

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Unions have slammed Sunshine Sugar for moving a meeting about a new enterprise bargaining agreement from their Ballina head office to the asbestos-laden Broadwater Mill, which is the focus of concerns around worker and public safety.

Sunshine Sugar management has refused a written request by union representatives to change the location of the meeting due to be held at the Broadwater Mill tomorrow, despite the company’s own asbestos expert identifying the site as being high risk and ordering the workshop and stores area be urgently decontaminated.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said they have been left with no choice but to boycott the meeting over concerns that union representatives and workers could be exposed to asbestos if it takes place at the mill.

The unions accused Sunshine Sugar management of unreasonably refusing to relocate the meeting to an alternate venue, saying they believed management were trying to make a point given recent concerns about asbestos contamination at the mill.

The scheduled meeting relates to negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement that governs the wages, conditions, and workplace rights of employees at Sunshine Sugar’s three mills in northern NSW.

“These meetings are normally held at Sunshine Sugar’s head office in Ballina, but for some reason management are insisting that tomorrow’s meeting be held at the Broadwater Mill,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“We are extremely concerned that by attending this meeting, union representatives and workers may be exposed to asbestos fibres given the company’s own asbestos testing confirmed the location of asbestos in various parts of the mill and recommended the isolation and decontamination of the workshop and stores area.

“We have made a reasonable request — in writing — to move this meeting to a safe alternate location, but management are digging their heals in and refusing to budge.”

CFMEU secretary Brian Parker said the unions were keen to get on with the planned negotiations, but not if it meant putting people’s health at risk within the asbestos-laden mill.

“We believe this facility still poses a significant risk, and we’re simply not willing to allow the health and safety of our officials and the negotiating committee to be compromised,” he said.

“All we are asking for is that management agree to hold tomorrow’s meeting in their Ballina office, which is where all prior EBA meetings have been held, rather than playing this silly game.”

Unions are currently exploring legal options in relation to the approach taken by Sunshine Sugar management towards the EBA negotiations and their refusal of a reasonable written request to move the meeting.

Ausgrid launches legal action to force workers to train overseas replacements

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Australia’s largest electricity distributor has launched legal action to force staff members to travel to India to train a replacement workforce as part of the outsourcing of critical information technology services.

Ausgrid, which was privatised last year by the NSW Government, will this morning seek to have the Fair Work Commission rule that workers refusing to travel overseas to train contractors who will take the jobs of their colleagues are involved in unauthorised industrial action.

The company informed staff that it had signed a contract with Indian multinational Tata Consultancy Services to outsource more than a third of the workforce in the Geographic Information System section.

GIS is responsible for developing and maintaining detailed mapping information covering every element of the electricity network that provides power to more than a million homes and businesses in Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter and Central Coast.

As a result of the outsourcing announcement, which will initially see the local workforce cut from 77 to 45, power industry unions the United Services Union and Electrical Trades Union imposed a ban on their members being involved in training contractors engaged to replace Ausgrid workers.

“It is absolutely outrageous that the new management of Ausgrid is not only sending specialist jobs overseas, but they are taking legal action to force workers to travel to India to train the consultants who will be taking these jobs,” USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said.

“If the FWC sides with management, workers will be legally forced to fly overseas and train people to take the jobs of co-workers, colleagues and friends.

“This is absolutely appalling corporate behaviour, which is why union members have taken a stand and said they won’t be involved in training contractors that will take local Ausgrid jobs.”

ETU secretary Dave McKinley said the outsourcing announcement also revealed that the company had no intention of abiding by job protections put in place ahead of the privatisation.

“The NSW Government claimed privatisation wasn’t about slashing skilled jobs or services, but less than a year after taking the reigns the new private owners are sending critical services offshore,” he said.

“Because workers can’t be forcibly sacked under the job protections imposed by the NSW Parliament, Ausgrid management instead makes redeployed staff come to work each day with nothing to do and no colleagues to interact with, mentally grinding them down until they accept a ‘voluntary’ redundancy.

“This rubber room treatment is not only appalling corporate behaviour, it’s the reason workers are so committed to ensuring their actions don’t lead to colleagues suffering this fate.”

Mr Kelly said there were also serious security concerns about the outsourcing plans.

“The Federal Government blocked the sale of Ausgrid to buyers from China and Hong Kong because of the concerns of security agencies regarding foreign control of critical electricity infrastructure, yet we now have the Australian buyers simply handing this same sensitive information over to a foreign multinational,” he said.

“If companies from China or Hong Kong having access to this infrastructure was a security risk, surely it should be concerning that an Indian multinational will be controlling critical network information.”

Mr McKinley said the unions would be vigorously defending the legal action.

“Not only do we believe workers should have the right to follow their conscience and not train a workforce of overseas contractors to take the jobs of colleagues, we also dispute the company’s claim that this amounts to industrial action,” he said.

“In a nation built on mateship, sticking up for your co-workers should be something that is praised, not dragged through the courts and punished.”

Sunshine Sugar ordered to provide asbestos training to workers; remove asbestos products and contaminated soil

Paul Lister - Monday, August 28, 2017

The NSW Government’s workplace safety regulator has ordered Sunshine Sugar, which operates three sugar mills in northern NSW, to isolate asbestos contaminated areas of the company’s Broadwater mill and remove damaged asbestos products along with asbestos contaminated soil.

The inspection by SafeWork NSW followed specialist asbestos testing at the mill that revealed 80 per cent of the samples taken — including swabs of damaged walls, dust, and soil — contained asbestos fibres.

The company has been ordered to implement the recommendations of the specialist asbestos consultant that examined the workplace (see link below for full report), including: the immediate isolation of the workshop and store areas; the application of a PVA solution to damaged asbestos sheeting; the engagement of a specialist asbestos removal contractor to decontaminate the workshop and stores area; the removal of asbestos wall sheeting and guttering from the north and east sides of the mill; and the removal of contaminated soil on the north side of the mill.

Sunshine Sugar is also required to carry out urgent asbestos awareness training for all workers, including information on how to identify asbestos risks, the safe handling procedures for asbestos containing materials, and the control measures put in place by the company to address the risk.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Dave McKinley said the findings of the safety regulator and asbestos specialist vindicated union safety concerns and revealed that the company had been misleading with its public statements.

“Sunshine Sugar management attacked the union and claimed there was no substance to our safety concerns, yet we’ve now got documentary proof that 80 per cent of the samples taken by their own asbestos specialist tested positive for a range of potentially-deadly asbestos fibres,” Mr McKinley said.

“Not only were these asbestos fibres found on walls and among dust within the workplace, but soil directly across the road from residential properties was also found to be contaminated with asbestos.

“The specialist hired by the company confirmed that the asbestos risks in the workshop and store areas were at the highest end, setting out a series of urgent safety measures that need to be undertaken by Sunshine Sugar.”

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union secretary Brian Parker said it was significant that the NSW Government safety regulator had demanded immediate safety training for workers.

“It is clear that workers at Sunshine Sugar had not been made appropriately aware of the asbestos risks or how they were to be safely managed, putting their health and safety at risk,” Mr Parker said.

“Our members, who raised these concerns, have also been vindicated, with SafeWork NSW and the company’s own asbestos specialist revealing serious shortcomings in how this deadly fibre was being managed.”

Asbestos documents and photos: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0By76Vf0DtLKXRG92WFZiN0RLdEE

Electrical safety issues uncovered on Sydney Metro Northwest after vehicle hits live wiring, blacking out tunnel

Paul Lister - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Workplace safety standards on the NSW Government’s Sydney Metro Northwest rail project have come under fire after an all-terrain Manitou forklift came into contact with live electrical wiring, blacking out the construction site and activating emergency lighting which was reported as inadequate.

Following the incident, a safety inspection by a licenced electrician from the Electrical Trades Union revealed additional breaches of Australian Standards and safety legislation on the project.

The union said the safety issues included three phase electrical wiring that had been wrapped around a water pipe and run through the tunnel without any physical protection in place to prevent vehicles or power tools from coming into contact with it and compromising insulation.

ETU Secretary Dave McKinley said that the most concerning moment of the safety investigation came when management on the project refused to cut power to the cable despite being informed it was not only dangerous, but also illegal.

“We have serious concerns that electrical safety standards are not being met during the construction of the Sydney Metro Northwest, putting workers at risk of injury or death,” Mr McKinley said.

“Days after power was cut to the railway tunnel when a vehicle struck a live power cable, our inspectors found electrical cabling that is breach of relevant electrical standards and safety laws.

“Wrapping a power cable around a water pipe, with nothing to protect it from being impacted by heavy vehicles or workers with power tools, is unacceptable on any building site, yet for some reason it is being done on a massive Government-funded infrastructure project.

“We fear that because so much of the construction is occurring underground and in tunnels, where the public and media can’t see what’s going on, management think they are able to cut corners with safety.”

Mr McKinley said that Safe Work NSW have failed in their obligation to investigate serious and repeated safety breaches on the site and that that NSW regulator needed to act.

“Safe Work NSW are nowhere to be seen on one of NSW largest and most dangerous worksites,” he said.

“I am calling on Safe Work NSW to do their job and enforce workplace safety laws that are in place to protect workers.

“It is simply unacceptable that such a cavalier approach to workplace safety that continues to put lives at risk  is being allowed to occur on a major, state government infrastructure project.”

Safety issues at northern NSW sugar mills put workers and community at risk of asbestos exposure: union

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sunshine Sugar, which operates three sugar mills in northern NSW, has been issued with a series of safety rectification notices after a union investigation found broken and badly degraded asbestos sheeting was potentially exposing workers and the public to the risk of inhaling deadly asbestos fibres.

Union officials conducted safety inspections of the company’s Condong, Broadwater and Harwood mills after workers raised concerns that management had failed to respond to their concerns in relation to the presence of dangerous, friable asbestos fibres.

The Electrical Trades Union said the inspection located a number of serious asbestos safety breaches, including: broken asbestos pieces on the ground in public access areas next to the Broadwater mill; corrugated asbestos sheeting that contained holes, cracks, and visible asbestos fibres; and broken asbestos sheeting in a lunchroom that had simply been covered with clear contact sheets rather than being properly remediated.

As a result of the inspections, a number of safety rectification notices were issued under the Work Health and Safety Act regarding asbestos safety breaches at the Condong and Broadwater mills.

ETU secretary Dave McKinley said the company had been notified by workers of their asbestos concerns last month but had failed to act, with the CEO claiming it was because the wrong form had been used.

“Even a tiny exposure to asbestos fibres, which lodge deep in the lungs, can be enough to cause deadly cancers and other debilitating asbestos-related diseases,” Mr McKinley said.

“That’s why it is so concerning that Sunshine Sugar management have failed to properly address very visible safety issues that have not only been putting their workforce at risk, but also the general public.

“Both the Condong and Broadwater mills are constructed with large amounts of asbestos cement sheeting, but natural weathering and age have resulted in these products breaking down, releasing friable asbestos fibres which can easily become airborne and be inhaled.

“In the short term, the company needs to immediately remove the damaged products, but they also need to move towards a plan for full asbestos removal and remediation to avoid similar incidents occurring in future.

“Australia’s industrial use of asbestos has left a deadly legacy, with 600 people dying each year from the aggressive lung cancer mesothelioma alone, while thousands more are diagnosed with other asbestos-related diseases.

“The danger of asbestos is well know, and companies like Sunshine Sugar that know their workplaces contain extensive quantities of aging asbestos products have a legal and moral obligation to protect their employees and the neighbouring communities from this very foreseeable risk.

“We have also been disappointed that management tried to pass the blame for their failure onto staff, with the CEO claiming the reason no action was taken was because a worker used the incorrect form to report the issue.

Sydney Metro North West asbestos shock

Paul Lister - Monday, August 21, 2017

The discovery of asbestos in a major Sydney infrastructure project has alarmed workers and union officials, who have questioned the methods of the consortium building the project.

The Sydney Metro North West site at Tallawong Road, Schofields was shut down shortly before midday on Thursday for the second time this week after asbestos was discovered in an area where heavy machinery had been operating for more than a year. Workers were sent back to work on the site on Friday.

Electrical Trades Union New South Wales secretary Dave McKinley said the fact that the material was detected long after work had commenced was evidence that the company had not properly surveyed the site before commencing.

“Any form of asbestos is deadly – let me make that perfectly clear,” he said. “Given that there has been heavy machinery operating in the nearby area, it’s hard to see how it would not have become loose and airborne.

“We are concerned that more than 100 workers have been exposed to this material. We are also concerned that visitors to the Buddhist Temple that backs onto the site and local residents could be at risk.”

Union officials have been unable to locate the hazardous materials register for the site, which head contractor NRT Project – a consortium of John Holland, Cimic, Leightons and UGL – are required by law to maintain.

“It appears that the people in charge of this project put budgets and timelines ahead of human lives,” he said. “We want to know why this material wasn’t detected in pre-work surveys and where the register of hazardous materials that it should appear on has gone.”

Mr McKinley said he wanted an explanation of why workers were sent back to affected areas after the initial discovery, and demanded an agreed independent hygienist survey all Sydney Metro North West sites to determine their safety. He also demanded lung capacity testing for people working in affected areas, air quality testing for surrounding neighbourhoods and asbestos awareness training for all workers on the project.

Finally, Mr McKinley said that anyone exposed, working on the project or living in the area who risked exposure should be added to the national asbestos exposure register.

Closure of Essential Energy depots at Trundle and Peak Hill will leave community with reduced services

Paul Lister - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The closure of Essential Energy depots at Trundle and Peak Hill next month, with specialist workers redeployed up to an hour away in Parkes, Narromine and Condobolin, will result in reduced services and slower emergency response times, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

Regional electricity distributor Essential Energy this week confirmed that as part of an ongoing series of cuts to employee numbers and regional depots, the two facilities in Trundle and Peak Hill will close their doors from September 4.

Last Tuesday, ETU representatives met with Member for Orange Philip Donato to discuss the local depot closures, with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP expressing his shared concerns regarding the impacts of ongoing Essential Energy cuts.

“At the moment, when a car hits a telegraph pole, wind brings down power lines, or a house catches fire, local crews are available at Trundle and Peak Hill to respond, including after hours,” ETU assistant secretary Justin Page said.

“From next month, emergency services will be forced to wait for up to an hour for power to be isolated, as Essential Energy instead deploys crews from Parkes or Forbes.

“This delayed response not only impacts on the ability of emergency services personnel to do their job, it puts the safety of the public at risk and will result in services taking longer to restore.

“You can’t close two depots, relocate the workers and their specialist equipment to another town, then claim the local community won’t receive lower levels of service.

“It’s obvious that when the lights go out, or a catastrophe strikes, the people of Trundle and Peak Hill will be forced to wait longer before assistance arrives, it’s as simple as that.”

Mr Page also hit out at the National Party, saying they had turned a blind eye to cuts that saw more than 1,400 regional jobs axed from Essential Energy during the 2015-16 financial year alone.

“Before the last election, the National Party claimed they had ‘saved’ Essential Energy, but since then we have seen more than 50 local depots shut down and huge numbers of specialist workers lost,” he said. “It’s now absolutely clear that the Nationals lied to the public.

“Already this year, Essential Energy has closed depots at Moulamein, Grenfell, and Gundagai, as well as a major call centre in Queanbeyan, while management told the Fair Work Commission they plan to axe half of their remaining regional workforce in the next few years.

“This situation is absolutely unsustainable and will leave communities across regional NSW suffering with second-class electricity supplies.”