ETU Media Releases

ETU Media Releases

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Come Clean Over Future of Snowy Hydro

Paul Lister - Friday, January 31, 2014

With increasingly reliable political leaks suggesting Tony Abbott’s Commission of Audit will recommend privatising a raft of public assets — including the highly-profitable Australian icon Snowy Hydro — local MPs Peter Hendy and John Barilaro have been called upon to publicly rule out any planned sale by their respective governments.

The Electrical Trades Union’s privatisation concerns — which were labelled a ‘scare campaign’ by Mr Hendy and others when first raised in late 2012 — rapidly appear to be turning into a very real nightmare for the local community and the almost one thousand employees who rely on Snowy Hydro for their livelihoods.

Prior to the 2013 Federal Election, Mr Hendy told the community that they had nothing to worry about when it came to Snowy Hydro, but the ETU said it is looking increasingly likely that Mr Hendy may have deceived local residents with those statements.

Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake today called on both local politicians to categorically rule out any privatisation of Snowy Hydro.

“Power industry unions first raised fears that Snowy Hydro would be privatised more than a year ago, with certain local identities dismissing it as a union scare campaign,” Mr Kerslake said.

“But since the election, privatisation rumours and speculation has reached a fever pitch, with power industry unions concerned that they are about to turn into a very real nightmare for local businesses and the community.

“The big threat for a town like Cooma is that any buyer, most likely a foreign company or government, will already have an established head office elsewhere, meaning up to 200 high quality head office jobs in Cooma would be lost overnight.

“This doesn’t take into account other operational areas, which could take total job losses for the region to in excess of 500, with negative flow-on effects for the entire community, in particular local businesses.

“For every 13 jobs taken out of Cooma, $1 million is lost from the local economy, so local businesses and other sectors such as real estate will undoubtedly be impacted.

“We have had zero guarantees from local MPs Peter Hendy and John Barilaro, who seem content to sit on their hands and simply allow a Snowy Hydro sale to happen.”

Mr Kerslake said it was time for local members of parliament to respond to the wishes of the local community by pledging to take a public stand against the potential privatisation within their respective governments.

“Peter Hendy and John Barilaro must categorically rule out any privatisation of Snowy Hydro,” Mr Kerslake said.

“If they can’t do that, they must explain to the community why they are not willing to stand up and represent the people that elected them.

“We also want to know exactly what representations Peter Hendy has made to the Prime Minister, Treasurer or the Commission of Audit on behalf of the local community opposing the privatisation of Snowy Hydro, and if there have been no representations, then why not?

“Given Snowy Hydro is publicly owned by the Commonwealth, NSW and Victorian Governments, we are today calling on all three to clearly outline their future plans for this important piece of national infrastructure.”

Final Bids Near as NSW Government Prepare to Sell Public Out

Paul Lister - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Publicly owned Bayswater and Liddell power generators in the Upper Hunter are nearing their privatisation death knell with final bid’s due by next Wednesday as a part of the O’Farrell Governments electricity privatisation agenda.

With only two bidders, AGL and much smaller ERM Power, the stage has been set for electricity consumers to again be the victims.

Stop the Sell Off Campaign Director, Adam Kerslake said today that a sale to either company will leave NSW electricity consumers worse off with less competition and higher prices.

“What we have is one of the largest electricity companies in the country and one of the smallest electricity companies in the country looking to buy strategically important power generators in the Upper Hunter.”

“If AGL are permitted to buy Macquarie Generation then what we will see is further market concentration which will result in less competition and higher electricity prices, exactly the opposite to what the Liberal and National Party have been peddling.” said Mr Kerslake.

“On the other hand ERM Power are so small that they will struggle to compete on the open market under the strain of massive debt which will lead not only to higher prices but also high risk exposure for the NSW public if they were to partially or completely fail.” said Mr Kerslake.

“You only need to look down the road to see what happened at Redbank, there is a big difference between being a power station owner and being a successful business.

“Meanwhile it is highly unlikely that the government will realise a decent return from the privatisation of Macquarie Generation with figures as low as $1 billion being thrown around when Macquarie Generations annual report values the business and their assets at more than $2 billion.” said Mr Kerslake.

“This is nothing more than a fire sale being driven by out of touch ideologues and merchant bankers that have vested interests and influence over the Premier and his government.”

“What is disgraceful is that the community have outright rejected electricity privatisation yet the government continue to sell the public out.

“More than 80% of the general public say that electricity should be owned by the public and run by the government to benefit everybody.”

“We are already seeing the private sector wind back generation capacity after EnergyAustralia announced that they will close the recently privatised Wallerawang power station near Lithgow.”

“And we all know what happens when there is a supply shortage – prices go up and consumers get screwed yet again.” Mr Kerslake said.

Endeavour Energy loses third FWC case over drug and alcohol testing

Paul Lister - Monday, January 20, 2014

NSW Government-owned electricity network company Endeavour Energy has lost a third legal attempt to force staff to undergo urine tests for drug and alcohol use in a legal battle that will have major implications for a range of industries including mining, transport and aviation.

The Electrical Trades Union said the decision confirmed two previous court rulings, including by the full bench of Fair Work Australia, that found the use of urine test was “unjust and unreasonable” because it could detect drug use from days earlier, rather than more recent use that could lead to impairment at work.

Endeavour Energy launched the latest legal action in October last year, with the matter heard in the Fair Work Commission in December. The company was attempting to vary the original decision, which required the use of oral testing, with urine based testing.

ETU NSW deputy secretary Neville Betts said the decision, handed down late last week, highlighted that the role of drug and alcohol testing in the workplace should be about identifying potential impairment, rather than disciplining staff for private actions taken in their own time.

“This is the third time the courts have ruled in favour of the ETU on this issue, despite Endeavour Energy spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to force urine testing on their staff,” Mr Betts said.

“In this latest case they attempted to use a licensing technicality to overturn the previous decisions and bring in their preferred urine testing model.

“This most recent decision absolutely cements this legal precent that has wide-ranging ramifications not only for the electricity sector, but for every industry that carries out drug and alcohol testing, in particular mining, aviation, transport and emergency services.

“In recent years drug testing of employees has become increasingly common, both in the public sector and private enterprise, which is why making sure the practice is done as fairly as possible is so important.

“While oral testing accurately identifies recent drug use, where an individual may be impaired in their abilities, urine tests unfairly monitor workers’ private lives by potentially showing a positive result even where a substance may have been used many days prior, in a private capacity.

“After three legal battles, and three losses, the ETU is calling on Endeavour Energy and the NSW Government to finally accept the court’s decision and rule out the use of taxpayers money on further appeals.”

A full copy of the FWC decision can be found here.

Workers & community lose out as Delta Electricity put up for sale

Paul Lister - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The NSW Government has been accused of selling out workers and the broader community from the Central Coast and Newcastle by putting Delta electricity’s Vales Point and Colongra power stations on the market.

The Electrical Trades Union has urged local MPs to stand up for the community, rather than towing the Liberal Party line, and publicly oppose the planned sale.

“Selling these power stations not only means a loss of ongoing income for the people of NSW, but it means the potential loss of local jobs on the Central Coast as private buyers look to maximise their profits through staffing cutbacks,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“Vales Point and Colongra power stations generate almost 15 per cent of our state’s power, while also providing quality jobs for hundreds of local workers from the Central Coast, Newcastle and surrounding areas.

“It’s time Member for Swansea Garry Edwards and Member for Wyong Darren Webber stood up to Premier Barry O’Farrell and Treasurer Mike Baird and defended the best interests of their local community, rather than towing the party line.

“It also raises the question: if these MPs support the sale of our power generators, where do they stand on the sale of the poles and wires electricity network?”

Mr Butler said the sale would likely see the loss of jobs and longer term investment.

“Once these assets and income streams are sold to the private sector it will likely result in higher charges for the general public, a loss of income for future governments and a smaller assets base to borrow against should the need arise,” he said.

“It also makes no economic sense for the government, because the amount of money they will receive once debt is repaid will only be equivalent to what they would receive in dividend payments over approximately the next five years.”

The union said the proposed sale was the latest in a long list of public assets that have been flogged off by the Liberal Government in Macquarie Street over the past two years.

“We’ve already lost Port Botany, Port Kembla, the desalination plant, Sydney Ferries, Delta Electricity’s western power stations and Eraring Energy, and now we have two more power stations on the chopping block,” Mr Butler said.

“Every asset the NSW Government has sold has had one thing in common, they generate ongoing income that previously funded roads, schools, and essential services, but now goes into the pockets of private owners.”

Rail commuters to suffer slower responses to emergencies

Paul Lister - Monday, December 09, 2013

Commuters will be forced to wait for longer during breakdowns and other emergencies as a result of a RailCorp restructure that will axe electrical staff and instead call in private contractors to carry out their roles.

The Electrical Trades Union said RailCorp today informed 21 electrical workers that they will no longer have a job under a proposed restructure. The job’s being axed involve essential electrical maintenance and emergency response roles, including 18 electrical substation workers, the manager of electrical, a maintenance engineer, and an electrical project officer.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said that on the eve of Christmas, staff from Wollongong, Sydney and Newcastle had been told that they would not have a job in 2014.

“This restructure has the potential to seriously impact on rail customers from early next year, leading to delayed response times to breakdowns and other emergency situations while a private contractor is called in,” Mr Butler said.

“Past RailCorp reviews have confirmed that retaining electrical maintenance personnel within the company was the most efficient way to maintain assets and respond to critical incidents.

“The potential impact on customers from this outsourcing of front-line jobs will be substantial, with industry insiders telling the union that response times could routinely be between six and 48 hours for major incidents that occur outside business hours including people being trapped in lifts or blackouts at underground railway stations.”

Mr Butler said a previous attempt by RailCorp to contract out electrical maintenance work in the past had failed, with the jobs eventually brought back in-house.

“This was trialled several years ago on the Hunter Line, where it proved to be seriously flawed,” he said.

“In the end RailCorp was forced to bring the service back in-house because of the deficiencies in the services capabilities and response times of private contractors.

"Commuters across the rail network can expect to suffer further reduction’s to services and poorer reliability from next year if this restructure goes ahead as planned.”

Selling rural & regional electricity network to fund CBD infrastructure morally bankrupt

Paul Lister - Friday, December 06, 2013

Selling the ‘poles and wires’ NSW electricity network to fund a second rail crossing of Sydney Harbour would be morally bankrupt, essentially forcing higher prices and poorer service standards on millions of people in rural and regional parts of the state to fund infrastructure they would never use, according to the Electrical Trades Union.

Revelations today that Transport for NSW is working on the concept plan for a second Sydney Harbour rail crossing — a tunnel from Chatswood to the CBD that would cost up to $15 billion — and suggestions that it would need to be funded through the sale of the state’s publicly owned electricity poles and wires, should ring alarm bells for regional communities.

The ETU said the revelations were made more concerning by Premier Barry O'Farrell’s continued refusal to categorically rule out any privatisation plan’s beyond the 2015 election.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said Mr O’Farrell should follow the lead of his Queensland counterpart Campbell Newman, who this week formally ruled out any sale of his own electricity distribution companies.

“In Queensland, the Liberal National Party has seen that an essential service like electricity is best kept in public hands, but in NSW we continue to see the idea of privatisation promoted from some elements within government as a magic source of infrastructure funding,” Mr Butler said.

“Any sale of the electricity poles and wires would be bad for the community, leading to higher prices, reduced service delivery and massive job losses across regional NSW as new owners sought to maximise profits, but a sale to fund infrastructure projects that only benefit people in the Sydney CBD would be outrageous.

“Suggesting that millions of people across NSW should see a vital, publicly-owned essential service sold off, all so a single piece of infrastructure that will benefit only a few can be built, is morally bankrupt.”

Mr Butler said the sale also made no economic sense, with the electricity network currently delivering huge profits to the people of NSW that already go towards funding infrastructure and community services.

“Last month the NSW Auditor General revealed the NSW publicly owned electricity network businesses had delivered their largest dividends in history to the people of New South Wales,” he said.

“Total government income from the past twelve months from Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid will exceed $2.7 billion, every cent of which flows into the government coffers to help fund public services such as our hospitals, schools and roads.

“It’s time the O’Farrell Government followed the lead of their Queensland colleagues, accepted the benefits of retaining these assets in public ownership, and formally ruled out any sale — especially a sale designed to fund inequitable infrastructure like a second harbour rail crossing.”

ETU calls for defibrillator on every truck to save lives

Paul Lister - Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The NSW Government has been urged to facilitate a state-wide roll out of defibrillators across the publicly-owned electricity network following several preventable deaths and near-misses in recent years.

The Electrical Trades Union has met with NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher to present him with detailed, independent research that has found portable defibrillators provide an effective, affordable, reliable opportunity to prevent accidental deaths among the thousands of workers who carry out dangerous maintenance and repair work, often on live wires.

The union has also asked the Minister to convene an industry taskforce to develop a consistent approach to the roll out of defibrillators in all four publicly-owned companies in the electricity sector.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the campaign had been given greater urgency following the death of electrical worker Trevor Tooze on September 2, while workin  g on the mid-North Coast.

“Trevor was an experienced Essential Energy employee, working on an upgrade of high-voltage power lines, when an electric shock stopped his heart,” Mr Butler said.

“His colleagues performed CPR until an ambulance arrived, but because of the remoteness of the work site it took more than half an hour for help to get there.

“The first thing the paramedics did was place a defibrillator on him, but unfortunately it had been too long, and they were unable to resuscitate him.

“A portable defibrillator on his work truck would have allowed him to receive treatment within minutes, which the expert research says would have greatly increased his chances of survival.”

Mr Butler said while some companies are trialling a small number of defibrillators in the field, the ETU is campaigning for a broader roll out and a more consistent approach across the entire sector.

“Our industry has seen several preventable workplace deaths from cardiac arrest in recent years, with the remote nature of much of our work drastically reducing the chances of survival,” he said.

“Because we are often working on live power lines, including high voltage cables, workers in our industry are at substantially higher risk than most people in the Australian community.

“Electricity is the sixth biggest workplace killer in Australia, and even a small shock can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

“But unlike other workplace accidents, quick action and access to a portable defibrillator provides the chance to prevent these deaths, with colleagues actually able to bring a co-worker back to life.

“With each machine costing as little as $3000 to install, we believe it is a tiny price to pay to potentially save a life.”

The ETU commissioned independent, detailed research, which found that installing defibrillators on electricity network trucks is not only practical and affordable, it offers the potential to reduce deaths in the electricity industry.

“We know that defibrillators have the potential to save lives, which is why we are calling for them to be installed on each and every work truck across the network,” Mr Butler said.

“Most importantly, we want a consistent approach across the sector, so all workers have additional protection from the danger of electric shock, not just those at certain companies.”

A full copy of the independent report commissioned by the ETU can be downloaded here.

Electricity network brings home the bacon for NSW taxpayers

Paul Lister - Monday, November 04, 2013

The release of the NSW Auditor General’s report on the NSW electricity sector has revealed the ongoing growth in the massive dividends the people of New South Wales receive from the publicly owned electricity network businesses, according to the Electrical Trades Union.

The Auditor General’s report identified dividends from the four publicly-owned network businesses — Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid — had grown to almost a billion dollars last year, before other revenue such as tax and interest paid to the NSW Government was taken into account.

“The NSW Auditor General’s report demonstrates that the publicly owned electricity networks remain an extremely valuable public asset that benefits the people of NSW and should not be privatised,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“In the past twelve months, income from the NSW electricity networks is likely to exceed $2.5 billion in total government revenue, once dividends, tax equivalents and government interest are taken into account.

“Rather than go into the p  ockets of a potential foreign owner as profit, this money is currently flowing into government coffers to help fund public services such as our hospitals, schools and roads.

“This is a great outcome for the people of NSW, especially as independent polling has previously shown the public overwhelmingly do not want to see our electricity network sold off.”

Mr Butler said the Auditor General’s report highlighted the economic weakness of the NSW Treasurer’s support for privatisation.

“On one hand we have Treasurer Mike Baird, taking every opportunity to talk up privatising the NSW electricity network, while on the other hand he is using the financial windfall from these companies to claim the budget is back in the black,” Mr Butler said.

“It’s hypocrisy at its best.

“One thing is crystal-clear from the NSW Auditor General’s report, and that is the NSW electricity businesses continue to make a valuable contribution to the bottom line of the state.

“The quicker the O’Farrell Government understands the value of these assets and commits to public ownership and operation the better off NSW residents will be.”

Premier challenged to categorically rule out sale of electricity network

Paul Lister - Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Electrical Trades Union has challenged NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to categorically rule out the privatisation of the NSW electricity network, including the publicly owned power companies Ausgrid, TransGrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the public were confused by the mixed messages coming from the NSW Government on the issue, and voters deserved to know with certainty what the plans are for the future ownership of this valuable and strategic public asset.

“The people of NSW deserve to know exactly what the NSW Government’s long-term plans are for the publicly-owned NSW electricity network,” Mr Butler said.

“This shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Either the Premier supports keeping the publicly-owned-and-operated electricity network, the poles and wires that run down every street in the state, in public hands, or he doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.

“Instead, the people of NSW are left with Treasurer Mike Baird repeatedly advocating for his ideological love-child of electricity privatisation.

“Each time he is followed by the Premier who says the NSW Government has ‘no plans’ to privatise the electricity network.

“We all know that plans change, which is why the Premier must emphatically and categorically rule out privatisation of the electricity network as long as he remains in the top job.

“What the newspapers and politicians won’t tell the public is that the electricity network companies currently provide $2.5 billion every single year that helps pay for our hospitals and schools, not to mention the $18 billion in debt which these company’s currently owe.

“There is no river of gold attached the publicly owned NSW electricity network. This debate is being driven by ideologues and vested interests who would rather see large foreign owned companies benefit at the expense of NSW residents and taxpayers.

“It’s time to put the rumour and innuendo to rest and the only way this can happen is if Barry O’Farrell formally rules out any privatisation of the NSW electricity network while he is Premier.”

Central West to be hit by massive job losses

Paul Lister - Monday, October 28, 2013

The Central West has been hit with two announcements that will deliver massive job losses for Bathurst and Orange.

Appliance manufacturer Electrolux based at Orange yesterday announced that they plan to close their production facility by 2016, which will result in the loss of 500 jobs.

This announcement comes hot on the heals of another announcement by food manufacturer Simplot, who's brands include Edgell, Birdseye, Leggo's and Chiko among others.

Simplot announced on Thursday the loss of 110 jobs at their Kelso plant after the company announced that they would reduce local operations, bringing the total job losses for the Central West to more than 600 in just two days.

Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Secretary, Steve Butler, said that these announcements would have a devastating impact on the region.

"What we have here are more than 600 well paying, highly skilled local jobs being slashed.”

"We all know that the manufacturing sector is under intense pressure from global competition and the high Australian dollar but it is also clear that all levels of government must do more,” said Mr. Butler.

"Private companies make these decisions based on profit and their ability to compete, the simple fact is that Australian manufacturing can not compete with places like China, Malaysia and India so we have to look at other ways to protect these jobs.”

"Our government like to talk about "Free Trade" deals with places like China and the United States but what we need is "Fair Trade" where locally made products can compete on price and where local jobs are viable and protected." Mr. Butler said.

"I don't believe things will change, unless our Government change their approach to manufacturing in Australia.  If this does not happen we will continue to bleed good quality jobs like those being lost in the Central West." Mr. Butler said.

"As representatives of the workforce, the ETU and other unions will obviously working closely with these companies to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved from what is a dire set of circumstances.”

"Our primary concern will be to save as many jobs as possible, help find work for those who lose their jobs and to make sure all entitlements are paid."