ETU Media Releases

ETU Media Releases

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NSW power sell-off fails to learn from Black Saturday bushfire victims

Angela Lordan - Sunday, February 03, 2013

The plight of Black Saturday bushfire victims — who are this week being forced to relive the 2009 tragedy in court to ensure foreign owned power company SP AusNet pays compensation over fires allegedly caused by faulty wires — highlights the potential ramifications of the O’Farrell Government’s electricity privatisation push.

The Electrical Trades Union said that despite the Bushfire Royal Commission finding that several of the fires which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes were caused through lack of maintenance on the Singapore-owned electricity network, victims were being forced to jump through legal hoops in order to get compensation.

“If the Victorian electricity network was still publicly owned, there is no question that victims would not have been forced to relive this tragedy yet again simply to get compensation,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“That is especially true as the Royal Commission has already found several of these fires were caused by maintenance failings on the privately owned network.

“Unfortunately, the NSW Government seems to have learnt nothing from the experience of Black Saturday victims, who have had their tragic experience compounded by having to fight a multinational power company tooth and nail through the courts to be compensated for the horrific loss of lives, homes and livelihoods caused by these fires.

“Despite this, the O’Farrell Government are planning to do the same thing here in NSW and sell off the electricity network to the private sector who will cut back on maintenance, increase prices and slash services.

“Retaining this essential service in government ownership isn’t just about maintaining service standards, it is about ensuring it remains publicly accountable.

“Private companies, particularly those with foreign-ownership, have very little accountability to the community and will attempt to use every trick in the book to avoid paying compensation to victims of events like the Victorian Bushfires.

“If the Victorian Government still owned the electricity network it is highly unlikely that victims would now be reliving this nightmare through the courts, as the government would almost certainly have acted and compensated those affected.

“Electricity is not only an essential service required for everyday life, but it is also a highly dangerous commodity that can kill if the network is not maintained to the highest standard or network investment is cut.

“Experience shows us that this is exactly what private owners do in order to return maximum profits to shareholders.

“In Victoria we have clearly seen that under private ownership profits have come first and the public have come a distant second, which is now being played out in the courts.

“The O’Farrell Government needs to halt their own ideological privatisation push and guarantee that the people of NSW will never have to endure a similar experience.”

Secret Government Plans to Slash Electricity Staff

Angela Lordan - Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Electrical Trades Union has uncovered secret plans by the O’Farrell Government to cut more than half of the 13,500 jobs from the electricity sector through redundancies and forced sackings. 

The document compiled by Networks NSW show that the O’Farrell Government is planning to slash staff numbers by almost 60% through a systematic program including a staff freeze, redundancies and forced sackings.

The union is warning local communities that these deep and savage cuts will have a disastrous impact on frontline services particularly in periods of natural disaster such as bushfires, storms and floods.

“The information that we have uncovered shows a calculated plan by the O’Farrell Government to slash staff numbers at the publicly owned electricity companies by more than half.” said ETU Secretary Steve Butler.

“Essential Energy currently employs 548 staff at more than twenty locations across northern and north west NSW.

“Residents across northern NSW continue to endure natural disasters including bushfires, storms and flooding but it is the highly skilled and dedicated workers from Essential Energy that make sure the community have power restored as quickly as possible in times of need.

“If the O’Farrell Government goes ahead with their plans to cut more than half the workforce, this could result in the loss of hundreds of highly skilled jobs from the North West, Tamworth and Northern Tableland regions potentially leaving the community stranded and without power during future emergencies.” Mr Butler said.

“You cannot sack more than half of the electricity sector workforce without having a negative impact on emergency response capabilities, reliability, network maintenance and public safety” Butler said.

“Ask the residents of Coonabarabran if they think cutting staff at an essential service like the electricity companies is a good idea considering what those communities have just had to go through.” said Mr Butler 

Documents obtained by the ETU also reveal a planned timetable that will see the cuts implemented well before the next election.

“This timetable demonstrates that the Government knows these cuts will be unpopular and they want them implemented well before the next election in the hope that the community forgets.

“If you were cynical like me, you might think these cuts were being made in preparation for full power privatisation which will result not only in further cuts but also depot closures.” said Mr Butler.

“Towns across Northern NSW like Tamworth, Armidale, Moree, Glen Innes and Bourke are all doing it tough when it comes to employment opportunities and this is why we cannot allow hundreds of local jobs to be ripped out of these regional areas.” Mr Butler finished.

Electricity Network Should Cope With Demand & Heat

Andrew Brown - Saturday, January 05, 2013

While the NSW electricity network is expected to cope with the increased demand and extreme heat conditions today the ETU has said that any future reduction in network investment and network reliability standards would mean future extreme heat days could be very different.

ETU Secretary, Steve Butler said that some politicians are pushing to reduce network reliability and network investment that would put undue pressure on the electricity network in future extreme heat occurrences.

“In recent months we have listened to politicians from all major parties say that there should be a reduction in network investment and reliability standards but today is the perfect example why this should not happen.” said Mr Butler.

“NSW residents and business owners expect electricity to be available even on the hottest days of the year and any push to reduce network reliability would be bad for the business community and bad for NSW residents trying to stay cool.

“I challenge those politicians that have recently said we should reduce reliability standards to come out today and repeat those claims. These political leaders need to tell us how they will reduce reliability and what impact that will have on businesses and residents on a day like today.” Mr Butler said.

“Blackouts are inconvenient at the best of times and are sometimes unavoidable but governments have a responsibility to do everything in their power to guarantee the supply of electricity all year round including in extreme weather events such as today.

“I expect that the NSW electricity network will stand up to the demands placed on it today, this will not be without incident but a well maintained and well managed network, which we have in NSW can deliver on a day like this.” said Mr Butler.

“I believe that the government is best positioned to deliver a reliable electricity supply through a well maintained and well managed network and that is why the ETU in NSW is opposed to any form of electricity privatisation that would put future reliability and public safety at risk.

“We have seen in the past that the privately owned electricity networks in Victoria and South Australia continually fail to meet community expectations during extreme weather events.

“The Bushfire Royal Commission found that five of the eleven 2009 Victorian bushfires were caused by lack of safety inspections and network investment, while in South Australia the electricity network struggles to cope during extreme heat resulting in blackouts.” Mr Butler said

“We cannot let this happen in NSW and that is why the ETU will continue to highlight the benefits of public ownership of the NSW electricity assets.”