ETU Media Releases

ETU Media Releases

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Warning of Snowy Hydro privatisation threat proved correct

Paul Lister - Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Electrical Trades Union’s fears about possible privatisation of Snowy Hydro, first raised in Cooma last year, have been proved correct after the Commonwealth Government yesterday announced a wide-ranging Commission of Audit to examine asset sales.

The ETU has today called on community leaders in Cooma and surrounding areas to join the campaign to ensure Snowy Hydro remains protected as a publicly-owned asset.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the announcement confirmed that attempts to discredit his earlier warning that an Abbott Government would consider privatisation of Snowy Hydro as a “union scare campaign” were completely untrue.

“I was gob-smacked last year to have our concerns about Snowy Hydro privatisation labelled a scare campaign by some in the local community,” Mr Butler said.

“Treasurer Joe Hockey’s actions yesterday have left no doubt in my mind that the Commonwealth Government is considering the sale of Snowy Hydro as a part of their Commission of Audit.

“The only way this can be stopped is if the community stand united and act now in opposing any privatisation attempt.

“If the community remain silent, I believe Snowy Hydro will be sold.

“So today I am calling on local community leaders to recognise that privatisation of Snowy Hydro is a real threat and for those people to join our community campaign to make sure Snowy Hydro remains in public ownership with a head office in Cooma.”

Mr Butler said the NSW Commission of Audit handed down twelve months ago had recommended the sale of Snowy Hydro, so yesterday’s announcement that the Commonwealth Government will also be examining asset sales rang alarm bells.

“Now that the Liberals and Nationals are in government in NSW, Victoria and Canberra, the stage has been set for wholesale privatisation of the jointly owned Snowy Hydro,” he said.

“One thing is for certain, and that is the ETU will fight any planned privatisation of Snowy Hydro to make sure this iconic public asset remains in public ownership and is operated to benefit the local community and Australians more broadly.”

ETU Rejects "Social Privatisation" Call

Paul Lister - Friday, October 04, 2013

Electrical union leaders across the country have rejected outright calls by Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes for unions to embrace asset sales, saying past experience proves the move would be bad for consumers, workers and governments.

In an expansive essay, published today, Mr Howes claimed those opposed to the privatisation of assets were “reactionary”, “ideological” and stubbornly clinging to “sacred cows”, instead arguing that the union movement and the Labor Party should embrace asset sales and social privatisation.

Electrical Trades Union representatives from around the country have challenged those claims, saying the experiences of millions of Australians who have endured the sale of community assets over the past two decades have been negative, with higher prices, poorer services, and fewer jobs.

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said the majority view of union members, as well as the Australian community, has consistently been that essential services are best owned by government.

“Our union has a long, consistent, principled position against the privatisation of essential services, and it is a position that has been reaffirmed time and again by our members across Australia,” Mr Hicks said.

“In our industry, we have experienced first hand the impact of electricity network sales in Victoria and South Australia.

“The results have been bad for consumers, with price increases and service reductions. Workers have been hit with cost-cutting and job losses. Governments have also lost long-term, sustainable income streams that previously funded things like schools and hospitals.

“South Australia now has the highest electricity prices in the country as a direct result of privatisation, while in Victoria 173 people lost their lives due to lack of maintenance on the privately owned electricity network causing the horrific Victorian Bushfires.

“Perhaps worst of all, the community no longer has a recourse at the ballot box when these sorts of problems occur, because private owners only have to answer to their shareholders.
 “While some may have a vision about the benefits of ‘social privatisation’, experience around Australia tells us that selling off essential government-owned services always adversely impacts the community.”

ETU branches in NSW, Queensland and Victoria have also rejected the push.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said governments should be investing in income generating assets to build national wealth, not privatising them.

“It is unbelievable that foreign governments in China and Singapore see the value in investing in infrastructure such as electricity, ports and water to build wealth for their nations, but our own governments prefer to privatise them,” he said.

“When you sell an income generating asset, whether it’s to a super fund, foreign owner or a rich individual, what you are doing is making Australia and the Australian people poorer.

“Many public assets return stable and reliable financial dividends to government that help fund schools, hospitals and transport, as well as providing an asset base against which to borrow to fund other infrastructure.”

ETU Queensland and Northern Territory secretary Peter Simpson said current assets sales being undertaken by Coalition Governments across the country were short sighted and unsustainable.

“Right now we have a raft of Liberal National Governments undertaking a privatisation agenda across NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory,” he said.

“The problem is that once these assets are sold, the government loses a valuable long term income stream, creating a future funding crisis.

“The fact is, selling off public assets is short sighted and unsustainable.”

Mr Hicks said ETU members in Victoria experienced expensive privatisation during the Kennett era and saw first-hand the destruction of an industry.

“They saw the decimation of many regional communities as a direct result of the Victorian privatisation experiment,” Mr Hicks said.

“When Jeff Kennett privatised the electricity industry in Victoria, towns like Morwell and Gippsland were destroyed. Unemployment, marriage break-ups and suicides all sky-rocketed, while local economies in regional towns were decimated, not to mention the loss of valuable trainee and apprenticeships.

“On top of this, the private owners of the Victorian electricity networks were too busy chasing profits and less interested in doing necessary maintenance, ultimately resulting in the Victorian Bushfire disaster where thousands of people lost their homes and 173 people died.

“According to our Victorian members privatisation has been a disaster, and their advice to people in other states is that you must do everything in your power to stop this from happening in your own backyard.”

Employer reported for breach of electoral laws after allegedly offering staff $100 gift to influence vote

Paul Lister - Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A western Sydney electrical contractor is being investigated by the Electoral Commissioner after allegedly attempting to bribe staff into voting for the Coalition, with employees promised a “$100 gift” if a Coalition Government is elected this weekend.

The Electrical Trades Union reported the alleged breach of the Commonwealth Electoral Act after being provided with details of the message by workers at the firm
The text message, sent last week to employees of HMP Electrical Services, was allegedly distributed on behalf of the company’s owner Edmond (Eddie) Hajar.

The message read:
“Hi Guys – As you may or may not be aware, the federal election is on Saturday, 7th of September 2013. Eddie has asked me to remind you to VOTE and to let you know that if the Liberal Government win you will all receive a $100 GIFT as employees of HMP Electrical Services. Aren’t we lucky to live in a democratic country! Kindest regards, Nesska (for Eddie)”

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the union had received legal advice that the text message breached bribery provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. In particular, it breached provisions of section 326 which states: “A person shall not, with the intention of influencing or affecting any vote of another person, give or confer, or promise or offer to give or confer, any property or benefit of any kind to that other person”.

Mr Butler said the message, sent by an employer who wields a position of power over his staff, was a concerning attempt to influence the votes of workers that live in some of the most marginal seats in the country.

“Their employer has not only attempted to influence their vote by making it very clear how he expects them to vote this weekend, but he has then backed that up with a promised financial incentive,” Mr Butler said.

“Employees at the company were outraged by the alleged bribery attempt, but due to the fear of reprisal from their employer they felt unable to make an official complaint, instead asking the union to ensure the case was properly investigated.

“This employer has a poor track record with his treatment of staff, with the union previously recovering unpaid wages and superannuation for staff that were owed thousands of dollars.

“This alleged bribery attempt also raises serious questions about why this employer, with his history of underpaying staff and failing to follow superannuation laws, would be so desperate to see Tony Abbott become Prime Minister.”

Macquarie Generation sale doesn’t make economic sense

Paul Lister - Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Energy unions have criticized the NSW Government for pushing ahead with the sale of Macquarie Generation, NSW’s largest supplier of electricity, in what is the latest public asset to be sold off by the Liberal National Government.

Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler said that NSW Treasurer Mike Baird was carrying on as though he has lost the plot, with Macquarie Generation the latest in a long list of privatisations, including Newcastle Port, Port Botany, Port Kembla, the Sydney desalination plant, Sydney Ferries and many smaller asset sales.

“NSW is becoming a poorer state thanks to the long list of asset sales that NSW Treasurer Mike Baird continues to preside over,” Mr Butler said.

“He’s carrying as though he has lost the plot by selling off valuable income generating assets.

“Every single asset that the NSW Government has sold to date has had one thing in common: They generate much needed income for the Government. In the case of Macquarie Generation, the company provided a dividend to taxpayers of $124 million last year alone.

“Once these assets and income streams are sold to the private sector it generally results 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.

“Quite simply, the sale of Macquarie Generation doesn’t make economic sense.

“The people of NSW do not want their assets flogged off at bargain basement prices to what are likely to be foreign investors from China, Singapore or Korea.

“The assets of Macquarie Generation are valued at $2.1 billion, but the company also has debts of almost $800 million, meaning NSW taxpayers will likely lose this essential piece of infrastructure for  no more than what they would receive in dividends over the next decade if it was kept in Government hands.

“This fire sale does not make economic sense, it does not make political sense and the only people to win will be the private investors who will seek to recover costs from electricity consumers.

“The ETU, with the help of cross bench MPs, were successful in securing the jobs and conditions of the existing 600 employees for a period of four years, which have been protected through legislation.”

Taxpayers lose out in O’Farrell Government power station sell-off

Paul Lister - Friday, July 26, 2013

Energy sector unions have attacked the O’Farrell Government over today’s announcement that Mt Piper and Wallerawang power stations will be sold to Chinese-owned EnergyAustralia for $160 million, saying taxpayers have been short-changed by the deal.

The unions said Delta Electricity, the state-owned business selling the power stations, last year delivered a $52 million didivend to the state government and had a book value of $1.75 billion, while their power stations were valued at $745 million.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, who are leading a community campaign against the privatisation of the state’s electricity network, said the O’Farrell Government’s “fire sale” had now sold four power stations in just four weeks, yet delivered only $85 million for taxpayers after losses.

“What we have seen today is the O’Farrell Government sell the Mt Piper and Wallerawang power stations for a pittance, and all without putting the sale out to competitive tender,” Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“Taxpayers deserve to know that they’ve got the best deal possible, and that clearly isn’t the case with this ongoing power station sell off by the O’Farrell Government.

“Last year NSW taxpayers received $52 million from Delta Electricity — profits that came from power generation — yet the community has now lost this ongoing revenue source for a measly $160 million.

“It comes just four weeks after the sale of Eraring Energy, where a government-owned company that delivered almost $140 million in profits last year alone was sold off for a loss of $75 million.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said it was outrageous that public infrastructure would be sold without ensuring the best price was achieved for taxpayers.

“Here we have a Chinese-owned company getting a sweetheart deal from the NSW Government that delivers a profitable business at a bargain price with no open tender,” Mr Kelly said.

“Clearly it fails the most basic obligation of a government to achieves the best outcome for taxpayers.

“Our unions don’t believe that any essential public infrastructure should be sold off, but if it must occur, like anyone else in the community we’d expect to see a process where multiple buyers bid against each other, delivering the top price for taxpayers.

“This is nothing more than a fire sale that does not represent value for the people of NSW.”

Higher power prices as NSW electricity meters privatised

Paul Lister - Thursday, July 18, 2013

Power industry unions have slammed a NSW Government’s decision to privatise the function of electricity metering, saying the policy will drive up prices and add yet another level of complexity to an already confusing sector.

The United Services Union and Electrical Trades Union said the decision would also lead to higher prices, with the profitable metering arms of the electricity distributors currently providing income that allows electricity prices to be kept lower for consumers.

They also attacked the announcement as a political backflip, saying it had come just months after Premier Barry O’Farrell pledged that the NSW Government would seek an electoral mandate before selling electricity network assets.

The unions are considering lodging a dispute with Fair Work Australia over the planned sale of the electricity meter arms of Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the decision to slice off profitable parts of the electricity network for sale to the private sector was not only a political backflip, it was short-sighted and would lead to increasing prices for customers.

“The NSW Government has no mandate to cut out parts of the electricity network and sell them off to private operators,” Mr Kelly said.

“This is a clear backflip on promises Mr O’Farrell has repeatedly made to the people of NSW that he would not sell the poles and wires electricity business without seeking a political mandate.

“He is acting without any accountability, either to the Parliament or the people.”

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said experiences from around Australia confirmed that consumers would be the big losers if the sale was allowed to go ahead.

“Every time the government sells off a part of the electricity sector it adds yet another private company to the supply chain that is looking to make profits for their shareholders and not deliver a service at the lowest possible price to the public,” said Mr Butler.
“It was only two weeks ago that the former head of the electricity network in South Australia, a state that has already privatised their electricity assets, said that South Australian residents had the highest electricity prices in Australia as a direct result of privatisation and the complexity of the sector.

“South Australia has among the highest electricity prices in the world and the same thing will happen in NSW if the O’Farrell Government is allowed to get away with privatising further elements of this essential public service.

“Today’s announcement has been made without any consultation with the public or those that currently do this work.”

Mr Kelly said the NSW Government appeared to be starting with large industrial customers, but that unions were concerned residential electricity meters would form part of the final sale.

“You can bet your house on the fact that if the NSW Government are pushing to sell off large industrial electricity meters that the next step will be to privatise residential meters, a device that every single house across NSW has,” he said.

“What this will ultimately mean is yet another company will have their hand in the consumers pocket when it comes to electricity prices.”

Power station 'fire sale' bad deal for NSW taxpayers

Paul Lister - Monday, July 01, 2013

Unions have criticised today’s announcement of the sale of power generator Eraring Energy as a “fire sale” that fails to realise the true value of the asset for NSW taxpayers

Power industry unions said it was absurd to sell off the profit-making enterprise, which delivered almost $140 million in profits last year alone, for just $50 million.

The NSW Government was also criticised that the sale of Eraring Energy, which owns and operates the Eraring and Kangaroo Valley Power Stations, had occurred without a competitive market tender process to ensure the best price was achieved for taxpayers.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said Eraring Energy’s own annual report confirmed that the company was worth much more than the $50 million sale price.

“If you look at Eraring Energy’s 2012 annual report you will see that last year alone this company had underlying profits of $137.3 million, which is more than twice the sale value announced today by Treasurer Mike Baird,” Mr Lennon said.

“In addition, this company had a total asset book value of more than $1 billion, including $142 million just in land and equipment assets.

“On top of this measly sale price, the NSW Government will also be making an additional payment of $300 million to Origin Energy relating to the supply of subsidised coal, which means this deal is going to cost the people of NSW millions of dollars.”

Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler criticised the Government’s failure to undertake a competitive market tender process which would have seen buyers bidding against each other, instead negotiating with only one buyer.

“The O’Farrell Government has failed the simplest test to get the best value for money for NSW Taxpayers from this asset sale,” Mr Butler said.

“Treasurer Mike Baird chose to only hold talks with a single buyer for this asset rather than test the market and open the sale to a competitive tender which is likely to have delivered a better deal for taxpayers.

“In March this year the O’Farrell Government spent $200 million on upgrading the Eraring Power Station only to sell it today for $50 million, it doesn’t make sense.

“This is nothing more than a fire sale that does not represent value for the people of NSW.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said that the deal was a disgrace and that the sale should be aborted.

“Here we have the Treasurer practically handing a valuable asset over to the private sector without any transparency,” Mr Kelly said.

“Just weeks after the NSW National Party State Conference voted unanimously to oppose the privatisation of the NSW electricity network, the NSW Treasurer has performed a fire sale of a major electricity generation asset.

“The Government should not be selling any assets, let alone an essential service such as electricity generator, but if they do sell off an asset like this they have a responsibility to guarantee that NSW taxpayers are getting the best deal possible.

“Not only has the NSW Government sold this asset for well under its value, they will also forego future years of profits and dividends that have helped to fund other public services like our hospitals, schools and transport.

“The NSW Government has failed and that is why I believe this deal should be aborted all together or at the very least put out to market tender to ensure the best possible sale price is achieved.”

Full financial details for Eraring Energy can be found on page 40 & 41 in their annual report.

Massively exaggerated numbers being used to promote the sale of NSW electricity network

Paul Lister - Thursday, June 20, 2013

Claims that the sale of the state’s electricity network could boost the state’s capacity for infrastructure spending by more than $50 billion are an enormous exaggeration, demonstrating proponents don’t understand the actual value or current financial position of the publicly owned electricity companies.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, who are leading a community campaign against the privatisation of the state’s electricity network, said Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and the NRMA needed to look beyond their own spending wish-lists and examine the economic evidence.

“Brendan Lyons, CEO of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and former staff member to Bruce Baird, is claiming a potential sale could boost infrastructure spending by $50 billion, but when you look at the annual reports of the public energy companies they tell a completely different story,” USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said.

“The four electricity network companies are currently valued at $25 billion best case scenario, but they are also burdened by large debts, currently totalling about $18 billion according to their annual reports.

“This money must be repaid if they are sold, meaning the NSW Government would be left with just $7 billion from the sale of this essential service or the equivalent of 3 years of dividends and government income.

“When you consider that the NSW Government currently receives $2.5 billion a year from these companies through dividends and other income — money that currently funds schools, hospitals and community services — then it becomes clear that a sale does not make economic sense.”
Unions believe the experiences of electricity privatisation in Victoria and South Australia, where they were sold in the 1990s, should also be examined before advocating a sale.

“Following the privatisation of the poles and wires in South Australia that state has among the highest electricity prices in Australia” Mr Kelly said.

“In Victoria, Black Saturday bushfire victims are currently suing the foreign multi-national owner of the electricity network who’s alleged lack of maintenance sparked several of the deadly blazes.

“The transmission network and the poles and wires running down every street across NSW are a natural monopoly, with no possibility for competition, meaning consumers will inevitably lose out.

“History has shown that consumers would pay more for electricity while suffering poorer reliability. Privatisation hasn’t worked elsewhere and it will not work in NSW.

NSW Government refuse to protect electricity jobs

Paul Lister - Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rural and regional energy sector workers feel justifiably betrayed by the NSW Government after it refused to support legislative amendments that would provide certainty over job numbers as part of a merger of the boards of the state’s three electricity network operators.

The United Services Union and Electrical Trades Union said the O’Farrell Government’s reforms to the electricity network, which sought to save $400 million dollars, had already seen almost 800 jobs lost through natural attrition, with fears of more to come.

A number of amendments that sought to protect existing staffing and service levels in rural and regional areas were rejected by the Liberal and National Parties in the Upper House.

United Services Union energy, utilities and private sector manager Scott McNamara said unions had put forward a series of recommended amendments to the legislation to merge the boards of Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy that would prevent the merged board from:

  • transferring existing jobs away from regional communities;
  • making existing regional positions redundant; and
  • reducing the number of employees at each of the respective electricity distributors.

“These amendments were about trying to protect rural and regional communities throughout NSW that are reliant on the jobs provided by the electricity distributors,” Mr McNamara said.

“The O’Farrell Government showed its true colours yesterday when it formally rejected several amendments from the Opposition and minor parties that would have gone some way to protecting jobs and services in regional communities, but it’s not too late for them to stand up for regional NSW.

“Electricity unions want to make it clear to the O’Farrell Government that essential services like the electricity network are of vital importance to rural and regional communities, and that these areas will most acutely feel any reductions in service delivery and maintenance standards.

“The O’Farrell Government claimed their reforms would save money by reducing duplication of corporate services, standardising IT systems and delivering economies of scale in purchasing, but what they’re doing by refusing to provide job security for staff in regional communities is admit the savings will actually come from job cuts.

“The flow on effects for the broader economies and communities of regional areas impacted by power network job cuts will be massive.”

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said the merger of the boards of the three electricity network operators, which has passed through the lower house of NSW Parliament, now meant hundreds of jobs were under threat despite promises made by the Premier.

“Following the government announcement that they would merge the electricity companies the Premier himself flew to Port Macquarie and gave a guarantee to locals that there would be no job losses, a commitment that was repeated by Treasurer Mike Baird only last month,” Mr Butler said.

“It now appears the Government has abandoned this commitment.

“The NSW Government last night had a chance to support regional communities across NSW by backing a sensible amendment to protect jobs in rural centres for at least five years following the merger, but they rejected outright any such protections.

“Instead, Premier Barry O’Farrell and more importantly the National Party has effectively put workers at Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy on notice that their jobs are on the chopping block.”

AMPControl To Slash Up To 100 Hunter Valley Jobs

Paul Lister - Friday, May 24, 2013

AMPCONTROL, one of the Hunter Valley’s largest private electrical engineering and manufacturing companies is set to slash up to 100 jobs in the Hunter Valley despite offers of assistance from employees.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) were told this week that the company will be making an announcement next Tuesday on jobs cuts with affected staff being told to pack their bags by Wednesday.

ETU Organiser Russell Wilson said that the unions went to the company with a plan to reduce the number of working days from five to four to assist the company but this was rejected by the company without consideration.

“We went to the company with an offer of assistance but management are more interested in making people redundant than working together to get through a tough period.” said Mr Wilson.

“The company will not tell us how many employees are going to be laid off but we have heard rumours that it could be as many as one hundred local jobs that disappear overnight.”

“Management would know by now exactly how many people are going to be affected but they are keeping it secret until next Tuesday and giving those dedicated employees that lose their job just twenty four hours to leave.”

“I think this is totally unacceptable, the company has a moral responsibility to its employees to at least give them a few weeks’ notice and to assist them in transitioning into alternative employment.”

AMWU Organiser Todd Nickle said that his members feel like they have an axe hanging over their head every day they turn up to work.

“These highly skilled workers have been turning up to work each day not knowing if they will have a job tomorrow,

“The company admits on their website that their success has only been made possible because of their loyal and dedicated workforce yet they make secret plans to sack up to one hundred people, it’s just a disgrace.” Mr Nickle said.

“We are calling on Geoff Lilliss and the board to reconsider the need to sack any workers and if they are going to sack people we are asking management to provide appropriate notice and to assistance people in the transition to new employment.” said Mr Nickle.