ETU Media Releases

ETU Media Releases

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Baird urged to abort Ausgrid sale after Treasurer blocks both bidders on national security grounds

Paul Lister - Thursday, August 11, 2016

Power industry unions are urging NSW Premier Mike Baird formally terminate the proposed sale of Australia’s largest electricity network business, Ausgrid, after Treasurer Scott Morrison identified serious national security risks posed by both bidders.

Chinese Government-owned State Grid Corporation of China and Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure, controlled by billionaire Li Ka-shing, were the only remaining companies seeking to take control of the Ausgrid network, which provides electricity to millions of homes and businesses in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast.

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent Ausgrid workers, welcomed the Treasurer’s preliminary decision, urging Mr Morrison to stand firm in the face of expected lobbying from Chinese interests and the Baird Government.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said unions had been warning that the sale of Ausgrid to overseas interests was not in the national interest for more than two years.

“We have warned, time and again, that selling an essential service to a foreign investor or government poses serious risks to security, yet the Baird Governments only response has been to accuse us of racism and xenophobia,” he said.

“Today we have been vindicated, with Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Foreign Investment Review Board confirming what we have been saying all along.

“A monopoly asset that not only provides power to millions of homes and businesses, but also to countless government, defence and other critical facilities, is not something that should be sold off to any foreign investor or foreign government, regardless of what corner of the globe they come from.”

USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said Mike Baird’s power privatisation plans were in tatters.

“The only option left for Mike Baird is to abort this sale and commit to keeping our electricity distribution network in public hands,” he said.

“There are only two bidders left for Ausgrid, and the Treasurer has found both pose an unacceptable risk to our national security if they were allowed to take control of the company.

“It’s time the Baird Government stepped back from their ideologically driven privatisation push and put the interests of the Australian people ahead of a short-term cash windfall.”

NSW Government urged to close loophole as Ausgrid tries to circumvent legislated job protections

Paul Lister - Monday, July 25, 2016

The NSW Government is under pressure to close a potential loophole in legislation guaranteeing five year job protections as part of the Baird Government’s electricity privatisation program after Ausgrid revealed plans to overturn the agreement.

Christian Democrats MLC Rev. Fred Nile secured the five year employment guarantees as a condition of his support for the sale of majority stakes in Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy following concerns that jobs could be slashed by new private owners.

The Electrical Trades Union last week held urgent discussions with Rev. Nile after the largest of the companies, Ausgrid, wrote to the union revealing it would be pursuing a potential loophole which it believes will allow the introduction of forced redundancies.

The union welcomed Rev. Nile’s commitment to ensure the Baird Government lived up to the spirit of his negotiated job protections and indicated that he would be seeking to have a clause inserted into sale contract for the 99 year lease to ensure that the job protections are adhered to.

Rev. Nile also indicated that he would seek to amend the Electricity Network Assets (Authorised Transactions) Act when parliament resumes next month to close the loophole.

ETU secretary Steve Butler commended Rev. Nile’s commitment to ensure the job protection provisions he negotiated last year were adhered to by the NSW Government and potential buyers.

“When Mike Baird wanted his privatisation plans approved, he had no problem agreeing to the provision of five year job protections at Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy,” Mr Butler said.

“Yet a year on, and while Ausgrid is still in public ownership, we have already got management indicating they plan to exploit a loophole that they hope will allow unfettered cuts to jobs.

“The Baird Government needs to show good faith and ensure the job protections, which were negotiated by Rev. Nile as a key component of the privatisation going ahead, are in fact enforced.

“We welcome Rev. Nile’s proposed solutions, with the combination of a legislative amendment along with a strongly worded clause in the sale contract ensuring certainty for thousands of NSW power workers and the communities they serve.”

Mr Butler said Ausgrid had informed the union that it did not believe the job guarantees would be binding if it could succeed in having the Fair Work Commission agree to the introduction of forced redundancy, possibly through the termination of their current workplace agreement.

“This runs completely contrary to the intention of the NSW Parliament, which voted to support an amendment to legislation that unequivocally stated: ‘there are to be no forced redundancies of continuing employees during the employment guarantee period’,” he said.

Protesters clad in asbestos equipment demand largest NSW power company remove deadly product

Paul Lister - Friday, July 22, 2016

Dozens of protesters wearing protective asbestos equipment will this morning target the head office of the nation’s largest electricity distributor, Ausgrid, to demand immediate action to safely remove the deadly substance from across the power network.

The Electrical Trades Union wrote to the company this week demanding action after it was revealed that efforts to remove asbestos — including in its most dangerous friable state — had stalled, leaving workers and community members at risk.

The union said documents obtained through freedom of information showed at least 29 current and former Ausgrid employees had been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases — including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer — between 2002 and 2012.

ETU organiser Mark Buttigieg said that with the imminent sale of the company, workers feared the NSW Government was trying to pass the buck, leaving a future owner to deal with the problem.

Protesters in asbestos suits demand removal of deadly substance
Where: outside Ausgrid head office, 570 George Street, Sydney
When: 11.30am TODAY — Friday 22 July, 2016

In 2013, Ausgrid management agreed to a series of remediation actions, including the immediate removal of friable asbestos from 10 substations, an audit of all asbestos-containing material in substations in the Sydney CBD, the provision of extra resources for asbestos removal, and the development of programs to remove and remediate fire doors and other components containing asbestos at substations and in other facilities.

The union this week wrote to Ausgrid chief operating officer Trevor Armstrong to highlight concerns that management had breached this agreement, with asbestos products remaining in substations throughout the CBD and serious cuts to the resources allocated to the issue — including to the company’s Asbestos Management Unit.

“Huge amounts of asbestos remain across the electricity network, from substations in the city to transformers in suburban streets,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“Most concerning is the fact that much of this asbestos is friable, which means the individual fibres are loose and — when disturbed — can easily be inhaled.

“This is the most dangerous form of asbestos, with even the smallest number of asbestos fibres capable of causing debilitating and even deadly diseases.

“We are already seeing two people die every year as a direct result of asbestos related diseases that they contracted while working on the NSW electricity network.”

Mr Buttigieg said Ausgrid appeared to be in breach of commitments made in 2013 that were meant to see a substantial increase in the resources put into identifying and removing asbestos.

The same agreement required the company to implement a process where workers could identify and record the presence and condition of asbestos in customer meter boards, which has also not occurred.

“Asbestos in the power network isn’t just hidden away in big substations, it is found in the meter box on thousands of homes, in transformers on suburban streets, and throughout the electricity infrastructure in Sydney’s central business district,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“The longer it remains there, particularly as it deteriorates over time and releases airborne fibres, the greater the risk that is posed to electricity workers and the general public.

“Rather than pass the buck to a future owner and hope that they will do the right thing, the NSW Government and Ausgrid management need to act now to remove this deadly substance.”

Unsustainable NSW Budget propped up by one-off power privatisation windfall

Paul Lister - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The NSW Government has handed down an unsustainable Budget reliant on volatile income streams that will undermine the State’s economic position in the medium to long-term, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has relied on one-off cash injections from electricity network privatisation and a stream of volatile stamp duty income from an unprecedented housing bubble to deliver a modest budget surplus, rather than secure sustainable long term income sources.

The union said that without the sale of electricity transmission company TransGrid, the Budget would have been in deficit to the tune of $7 billion, while Treasury will miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in future tax and dividends the company previously generated.

“Prior to the 2015 election, our union warned people about the negative fiscal impact caused by privatising income generating assets,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“It was a concern that was shared by many others in the community, including merchant bank UBS that issued a warning that privatising the state’s electricity networks would be bad for the state budget in the medium to long term.

“Today’s budget confirms these fears, with the one off cash injection from the sale of TransGrid propping up otherwise ailing state finances.

“If you remove the one-off sugar hit from the privatisation of the electricity transmission network, todays budget tells a very different story: one of revenue short-falls, deficit and poor economic management.

“The NSW Liberals and Nationals are relying on voodoo economics to hide their ongoing failure to act on creating sustainable long term revenue streams to fund our state’s future needs.”

The ETU challenged both the NSW Government and Opposition to rule out further privatisation of the remaining publicly owned electricity assets.

“The government and opposition cannot rely on unsustainable one off cash grabs in the future delivered through the privatisation of essential services.”

“Today’s budget is a clear example that privatising income generating assets for a one-off cash injection is not the silver bullet to solving the state's long term infrastructure and financial challenges,” Mr Butler said.

“We are demanding the Premier and NSW Opposition Leader rule out further privatisation of the remaining publicly owned electricity networks, including regional electricity provider Essential Energy and the remaining 50 per cent of Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.

“It is disappointing to see that we were right when we said privatisation was bad economic policy, and it is now up to the NSW Government to correct its mistake by halting the sale of Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy and ruling out any further privatisation of the remaining publicly owned electricity assets.”

Essential Energy management suffers crushing defeat as workers overwhelmingly reject proposed agreement

Paul Lister - Friday, June 10, 2016

Essential Energy management have suffered a crushing defeat after their proposed workplace agreement, which would have resulted in cuts to real wages and massive regional job losses, was overwhelmingly rejected by 87 per cent of their workforce.

The online ballot, initiated by management and carried out by Elections Australia, saw 2697 eligible Essential Energy employees vote, with 87 per cent — or 2347 workers — rejecting the proposal. Just 350 staff, or less than 13 per cent, were in support of the agreement.

The Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, and Professional Australia, which represent Essential Energy employees, had urged members to vote against the management agreement, warning that it would lead to hundreds of forced job cuts across regional NSW and prevent the independent umpire from deciding the outcome.

After 18-months of failed negotiations, and a steadfast refusal by the company to allow the industrial umpire to intervene, Essential Energy management have now run out of alternatives and will be forced to accept the arbitrated decision of the Fair Work Commission.

Essential Energy’s proposed agreement sought to impose hundreds of forced redundancies, financial penalties for staff who refused to take voluntary redundancies, and bans on redundant employees applying for other jobs with the company for two years. It also provided just a single, 2.5 per cent pay increase, while cutting other conditions and entitlements.

“This week, Essential Energy employees have sent an unprecedented message,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“They will not accept massive regional job cuts, they will not accept cuts to their real wages, and they will certainly not accept the bullying behaviour of a management team who have simply refused to consider the needs of the workforce during 18 months of negotiations.

“This vote leaves the company with no choice but to finally accept the decision of the independent industrial umpire, which will hear the details of our arguments and impose a binding outcome that will provide certainty for Essential Energy workers and the communities they serve.”

USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said the vote showed the resolve of Essential Energy workers had only grown in the face of unprecedented attacks on their jobs and employment conditions.

“For 18 months, Essential Energy management have been using every avenue available to them to try to force through a new workplace agreement that would allow them to forcibly cut hundreds of regional jobs and leave remaining staff financially worse off,” Mr Kelly said.

“There is no doubt in our minds that this unprecedented anti-worker agenda was being driven by the Baird Government — which is the only explanation for the total silence of local Liberal and National Party MPs about the threat of massive job cuts in their local communities.

“The power has now been taken out of management’s hands, with the independent industrial umpire finally able to hear all sides of the argument and make a final decision to bring this dispute to an end.”

Essential Energy workers urged to vote no to management plan for massive regional job losses

Paul Lister - Friday, June 03, 2016

Workers at Essential Energy have been urged to “vote no” in a ballot for a new workplace agreement, with unions accusing management at the NSW Government-owned electricity distributor of trying to avoid the matter being determined by the independent industrial umpire.
Unions have warned that the management-initiated ballot, if successful, would result in a cut to real wages and massive regional job losses. The electronic voting process commences from tomorrow, Saturday 4 June, and closes at 5pm on Thursday 9 June.
The management proposal offers a single 2.5 per cent pay increase over three years in return for workers agreeing to allow potentially unlimited forced redundancies, along with cuts to employment conditions, reduced consultation over future changes, and cuts to take home pay.
The Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union and Professional Australia, which represent Essential Energy employees, said the ballot was a last ditch effort by management to avoid having the Fair Work Commission determine the outcome of the long running dispute.
“Last week, the Fair Work Commission triggered a 21-day bargaining period that will be followed by automatic arbitration if no agreement is reached between the company and its employees,” ETU secretary Steve Butler.
“That decision was welcomed by unions as it potentially takes the decision making process out of management’s hands, allowing for independent assessment of the case by the industrial umpire which would then hand down a binding decision.
“After refusing to budge for 18 months, management has decided to have one final crack at getting their anti-worker agenda through in the form of this management initiated ballot.”
USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said power industry unions were urging workers to make sure they vote over the coming days, ensuring a clear rejection of this attempt to cut jobs and employment conditions.
“We are urging our members to make sure that they vote, that they vote no, and that they encourage their colleagues to do the same,” Mr Kelly said.
“We believe it is in the interest of Essential Energy workers to overwhelmingly reject this offer and instead allow the independent umpire to decide the outcome through arbitration.
“In 18 months of negotiations, Essential Energy management have refused to budge on their determination to slash hundreds of regional jobs and cut conditions that were fought for and won by previous generations.
“Essential Energy management, at the bidding of their masters in the Baird Government, continue to push for a workplace arrangement that will allow them to slash regional jobs and cut the quality of services available to power consumers.”
Background information regarding Essential Energy ballot:
Essential Energy management have initiated a ballot on a proposed workplace agreement which is opposed by power industry unions.
The ballot, which runs from Saturday 4 June until Thursday 9 June, is being run by Elections Australia Pty Ltd. Essential Energy employees will be emailed a code which they can then use to vote at
Changes to existing employment conditions in the proposed management agreement include:

  • Implementation of forced redundancies, with 250 people per year to be forcibly sacked on top of any voluntary redundancies. From 1 July 2018 there would be no cap on the number of forced redundancies;
  • Financial penalties for workers who are made forcibly redundant after refusing to accept a voluntary redundancy. Additional severance and early acceptance payments of up to 28 weeks pay available to workers who elect to take an early voluntary redundancy offer. If an employee does not choose to accept the early voluntary redundancy offer, they enter a 26-week retention period after which their employment is terminated and a lower severance payment provided;
  • Any employee who is made redundant is banned from being re-employed in an alternate position at the company for a period of 2 years;
  • The three year agreement only provides workers with a single, 2.5 per cent pay increase. This is less than inflation and amounts to a cut in real wages;
  • Cuts to conditions and entitlements will substantially reduce the take-home pay. Over the life of the agreement, many workers will miss out on thousands of dollars in entitlements;
  • Changes to consultation clauses will allow the company to proceed with major changes after a 28 day process. These major changes — such as replacing employees with contractors — are able to proceed after that four-week period regardless of the views of employees;
  • Removal of the “status quo” provision which currently ensures existing arrangements are maintained while a dispute is resolved; and
  • Minimum payment for being recalled to work outside of rostered hours, such as during storms or other major outages, halved from four hours to two hours.

Essential Energy industrial action halted: company ordered into 21-day bargaining period with union

Paul Lister - Monday, May 23, 2016

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.”

Essential Energy Acting CEO Should Resign

Paul Lister - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Electrical Trades Union is calling on Essential Energy acting chief executive officer Gary Humphreys to resign after he suggested workers at the company of putting the lives and safety of community members at risk by taking industrial action.

Mr Humphreys publicly accused workers of having "a complete disregard for safety, network reliability and customers, including the many life support customers on Essential Energy's network".

His statements followed the notification of a planned 80-hour strike, commencing at 10pm on Monday 23 May, despite the ETU providing almost two weeks notice — more than was legally required.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said Essential Energy management had the legal responsibility for guaranteeing power supply to the community during the strike and that the union had provided ample time for the company to meet their legal obligations.

“Essential Energy’s acting CEO has not only delivered an unfounded attack on his own workforce, but he has demonstrated that he doesn’t even understand his legal obligations,” Mr Butler said

“The safe operation of Essential Energy’s network — including during a period of protected industrial action — is the legal responsibility of the company, and their owner the NSW Government.

“Gary Humphries doesn’t get paid more than half a million dollars a year to sit around blaming others, he has a responsibility under law to guarantee the safe operation of Essential Energy’s electricity network and that is what the public expects.

“If Gary Humphreys is incapable of meeting his legal obligation to guarantee a safe, reliable supply for Essential Energy customers, he should resign immediately.”

Mr Butler said that the action being undertaken by ETU members at Essential Energy was legally protected and has been approved by the courts.

“The planned 80-hour stoppage has been approved by the courts and is 100 per cent lawful,” he said.

"The ETU has made several concessions, including an offer to allow the independent Fair Work Commission to determine this matter once and for all.

“The fact remains that the NSW Government or Essential Energy could resolve this matter today if they wanted to and the planned strike could be averted.

“Management and the NSW Government have options available to them to resolve this dispute but both refuse to act.

“Rain, hail or shine, ETU members at Essential Energy will not be at work for a continuous period of 80 hours commencing at 10pm on Monday 23 May — unless this dispute is resolved or we are instructed to work against our will by a court of law.”


Essential Energy Workers to walk off the job for 80 hours

Paul Lister - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Power workers that operate the electricity network across 95 per cent of NSW will hold unprecedented strike action from Monday 23 May, walking off the job in an attempt to bring an end to a long-running industrial dispute with management at publicly-owned Essential Energy.

For the first time since protected industrial action began earlier this year, all members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) will take part, with more than 120 workplaces, depots and control rooms impacted by the stoppage. Unlike previous stoppages, the union will not provide a skeleton staff during the stop work period meaning management will need to resolve this dispute or make alternative arrangements.

The ETU formally served notice of the protected industrial action yesterday afternoon (Wednesday 11 May), which will consist of twenty consecutive four hour stoppages — commencing at 10pm on Monday 23 May and concluding at 6am on Friday 27 May.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said workers had endorsed the major escalation of industrial action in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the dispute over a new workplace agreement, which has now dragged on for more than 18 months.

“For 18 months, Essential Energy management have refused to come to an agreement, have rejected a range of generous concessions from the union, have refused to allow the industrial umpire to intervene, have put forward a proposal that would see the immediate slashing of 800 regional jobs, and have launched unprecedented legal action to cut our members’ pay and conditions,” Mr Butler said.

“That sort of aggressive, autocratic management — where workers are told they have no choice but to accept massive cuts to jobs, services, pay, and conditions — has no place in a modern Australian workplace and is completely unacceptable to our members.

“Rather than allow this dispute to continue to drag on for months or even years, union members have decided to bring it to a head with an unprecedented escalation of strike action that will see them walk out of more than 120 workplaces for a total of 80 hours later this month.

“Unlike the 24 hour strike held yesterday, this future stoppage is the first time that the union will not be providing a skeleton staff during the work stoppage.

“Unfortunately, this means the stoppage may impact on electricity services for some in the community but customers can blame management and the NSW Government for their lack of will to resolve this matter.

“The NSW Government has sat on their hands long enough. They can stop this strike action, but only by demanding their management team at Essential Energy return to the negotiating table and agree to abide by the decisions of the industrial umpire, the Fair Work Commission.

“For the sake of Essential Energy’s loyal workforce, and the 800,000 customers they serve, the Baird Government can no longer remain silent while their management team attempts to slash regional jobs and services.”

Essential Energy workers to take 24 hour strike

Paul Lister - Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Workers at NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy will walk off the job for 24 hours on Wednesday after the company refused to allow the independent industrial umpire to resolve a long-running dispute over wages, conditions and job cuts.

Employees from more than 100 workplaces and depots across the state will take part in the strike action from 6am on Wednesday 11 May, returning to work from 6am on Thursday 12 May.

Negotiations for a new workplace agreement began 18 months ago, with the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) offering a range of concession to Essential Energy management in an attempt to reach an agreement.

Instead, the company has refused those offers, rejected a request to have the Fair Work Commission decide the outstanding matters, and launched unprecedented legal action that seeks to cut the wages and conditions of thousands of employees by tearing up the existing workplace agreement.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said workers have been left with no choice but to take part in a 24 hour statewide strike.

“Our members have done everything possible to resolve this dispute without the need to impact on the community service they provide, but management’s refusal to budge has left them no choice but to take strike action,” Mr Butler said.

“The ETU has made a range of generous concessions to the company on behalf of our members, including an offer to have the outstanding matters decided by the independent industrial umpire, but the company has rejected these efforts outright.

“As a result, ETU members employed at more than 100 workplaces across NSW will strike for 24 hours from 6am on Wednesday.

“Protected industrial action, is always a last resort, but when management not only refuses to negotiate, but won’t even allow the independent umpire to intervene, there is no other option available to us.

“If Essential Energy is successful in cancelling the current agreement, 800 regional jobs will be slashed overnight, wages and conditions will be cut, and consumers across rural and regional NSW will be left with lower service standards.

“Before the last election, Liberal and National MPs said there would be no cut to jobs or services, but for the last year they have remained silent as Essential Energy has done the exact opposite.

“If Essential Energy are not prepared to offer a fair and reasonable outcome it is likely that this dispute will continue to escalate with even longer strikes on the cards.”

Coverage will be available in the event of an emergency during the 24 hour strike period.