ETU Media Releases

The restoration of electricity services to North West communities ravaged by a huge bushfire on Sunday could take a week or more, with local power workers warning that recent cuts to staffing numbers have drastically reduced their ability to replace damaged infrastructure.

The Electrical Trades Union said members at the NSW Government-owned electricity network operator Essential Energy reported that the bushfire that claimed more than 30 homes had also destroyed 280 power poles and damaged hundreds of kilometers of power lines.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said residents returning to fire ravaged areas around Uarbry, Leadville and Cassilis faced being without electricity for days to come as a reduced number of maintenance crews worked around the clock to restore services.

“This is a massive repair job by any standard, but exhausted power workers have told the union their efforts to restore electricity services to these regional communities has been made substantially harder due to massive staffing cuts implemented by the NSW Government,” Mr McKinley said.

“Essential Energy crews have been sent from as far away as the Riverina and North Coast to assist with this repair work, but even with these additional resources there simply aren’t enough workers on the ground to restore power quickly following a natural disaster of this scale.

“The National Party has been caught with its pants down by this fire which has exposed as false their repeated claims before the 2015 election that they had saved Essential Energy.”

Mr McKinley said major Essential Energy depots in nearby regional centres such as Dubbo, Mudgee, Parkes and Forbes had lost up to a third of their workforce in recent years, while the company had just commenced a further 600 job cuts across the rural and regional power network.

“Since the Liberals and Nationals took power in 2011, we’ve seen the number of front-line electricity workers at Essential Energy slashed,” he said.

“Regional electricity customers pay some of the highest electricity prices in the country, so it shouldn’t be unreasonable for them to expect an appropriate number of workers will be available to restore power following bushfires and other natural disasters.

“Our members are doing their best to get power restored as quickly as possible, but with the scale of the damage — and the number of poles that need replacing — it may take up to a week.”

The union said local Essential Energy workers were upset by the pace of the response, saying they felt let down by the decisions of management and the NSW Government to drastically reduce workforce numbers.

“The distress of many victims of this bushfire has been amplified by delays with power restoration,” Mr McKinley said.

“While this is clearly the fault of Essential Energy management and the NSW Government, who are responsible for slashing regional electricity jobs, that doesn’t make things any easier for front-line workers.

“The union is encouraging Essential Energy management to at least seek to mitigate the problem by calling on the new owners of Ausgrid — which has depots just half an hour away — to send additional resources to assist with restoring power to these regional communities as quickly as possible.”
Thousands of NSW power consumers may be forced to endure blackouts this afternoon after the national electricity market operator warned of a looming power shortage as heatwave conditions cause demand to far outstrip supply.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has issued a warning that between 3pm and 5.30pm this afternoon NSW faces a shortfall of 419 megawatts of power even after importing large amounts of electricity from neighboring Victoria and Queensland.

Unless additional generating capacity can be found, AEMO may be forced to repeat the load shedding order that saw 90,000 homes in South Australia have their power supplies cut earlier this week.

The Electrical Trades Union said the NSW Liberals and Nationals were directly responsible for this looming power crisis as a result of the privatisation of electricity generating assets in 2014.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley highlighted the case of Wallerawang power station, near Lithgow, which was previously capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of baseload power but was closed down shortly after being purchased by Chinese-owned company Energy Australia.

“In 2014, the NSW Liberals and Nationals privatised our state’s publicly owned power stations,” Mr McKinley said.

“One of the first actions of these new private owners was to close Wallerawang, resulting in a substantial reduction to available electricity supplies and severely limiting the state’s ability to meet peak demand.

“If Wallerawang was still operating today, we would not be facing the load shedding and forced power blackouts that the national energy market operator is forecasting.

“The Liberals and Nationals told everyone that electricity privatisation would mean lower power prices and better services, but what we are likely to see today is the clearest possible evidence that the people of NSW were lied to.

“Electricity is an essential service, but when profit-hungry foreign investors take control of our public assets, they put their own interests ahead of the people of NSW, with consumers left to pay the price.

“South Australia is currently facing the same problem, with a lack of investment by the private sector in new base load electricity generation meaning higher prices for consumers and reduced reliability during times of high demand.

“We are now facing the potential for an east coast power crisis because privatisation has failed to deliver the promised outcomes.

“The current challenges in NSW have nothing to do with renewable energy generation and everything to do with private companies exploiting their power in a monopoly market while the people of NSW and South Australia are left to sweat it out.”



SOURCE: Australian Energy Market Operator forecast evening of 9 February - NSW 418MW undersupply or equivalent to 400,000 homes, https://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/National-Electricity-Market-NEM/Data-dashboard#operational-demand

The National Party is being urged to demand that regional jobs and services at Essential Energy be protected as part of a renegotiated coalition agreement with incoming NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, with the Electrical Trades Union describing Mike Baird’s departure as a unique opportunity to save thousands of quality jobs in the bush.

The call follows Nationals leader and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s statement that the existing agreement between his party and the Liberals was a blank piece of paper, with everything up for debate.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said that while Mr Barilaro’s new found courage opposing forced council amalgamations was a welcome start, the National Party must go further to stand up for the interests of regional communities by protecting regional jobs.

“During the next three years, the NSW Government-owned regional electricity distributor Essential Energy plans to halve its workforce, from 3,200 employees to just 1,600 by 2019,” Mr Butler said.

“This plan will cause untold pain to regional communities as quality jobs are lost, specialist workers are forced to move away with their families, less money is spent with local businesses, and far fewer front-line workers are available to carry out maintenance and emergency response work.

“This is the perfect opportunity for Mr Barilaro to demonstrate the truth to his claims that every policy is up for debate and that the Nationals will no longer ‘accept the crumbs from the Liberal party table’.”

Mr Butler said the coming weeks provided an unprecedented opportunity, with a new Premier, a cabinet reshuffle, and a renewal of the coalition agreement between the Liberal and National parties.

“Since coming to power in 2011, the Nationals have overseen the loss of 1,400 regional jobs at Essential Energy,” Mr Butler said.

“Now they are pushing ahead with plans to make a further 1,600 regional workers redundant by 2019.

“Essential Energy remains 100 per cent owned and controlled by the NSW Government, meaning Mr Barilaro can and should demand the protection of these jobs as a condition of the National Party’s ongoing support.

“Saving these jobs would provide clear evidence that the National Party has truly learnt from the Orange byelection and will no longer rubber-stamp decisions in Macquarie Street that run counter to the interests of regional workers, their families, and broader communities.

“The alternative — continuing to support this ideological push to outsource jobs — would expose Mr Barilaro and his National Party colleagues as being unwilling or unable to adequately represent the interests of regional NSW in the parliament.”

Analysis of the annual reports of publicly-owned regional electricity distributor Essential Energy has revealed the NSW Government took $28.1 million in dividend payments from the company during the same period management was arguing the company needed to slash 600 jobs to remain profitable.

Essential Energy management told the Fair Work Commission it required permission to forcibly axe 600 jobs to remain profitable, yet the company’s financial reports reveal an operating loss of $1.2 million was only recorded after accounting for the $28.1 million dividend payments to the NSW Government.

The documents also show a dividend payment of $58.7 million was provided to the NSW Government during the previous 2014-15 financial year.

Senior managers enjoyed substantial pay rises over the past year while frontline workers have faced an uncertain future, with acting Chief Executive Officer Gary Humphreys having his total remuneration jump 40.3 per cent to $764,353 in the 2015-16 financial year.

Meanwhile, head of Customer and Corporate Services Caroline Hungerford pocketed a 7.8 per cent pay rise to $337,706, the salary for the Chief Financial Officer position jump by 5.7 per cent to $357,876, and Safety, HR and Environment chief David Nardi took away a 4.4 per cent pay rise, with a package of $331,250.

The Electrical Trades Union, which carried out the analysis, said the company’s annual reports also confirmed that since the Liberal National Coalition came to power in 2011, job numbers at the state’s largest regional employer had been reduced from 4600 to 3200, while the number of Essential Energy locations had been cut by nearly a third, from 147 in 2011 to 100 in 2016 (see table over page).

“Essential Energy management stood before the Fair Work Commission and argued that to remain profitable the company needed to slash up to 1,600 regional jobs,” ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley

“What they didn’t tell the industrial umpire, or the people of regional NSW, was that this was only the case because the NSW Government has been continuing to demand multi-million dollar dividends.

“Had this dividend not been paid, Essential Energy would have produced a $27 million profit last financial year — enough to fund the jobs of about half of those who are now being axed.

“The year before, that figure was more than double that amount, with the dividend payment enough to cover the wages of every single regional worker who is now being forced out the door.”

The company’s annual report concluded that financial outcomes had actually been better than expected, stating that this was the result of: “lower than budgeted (number of) employee’s during the year.”

“The fat of the matter is that these regional jobs could be saved by the NSW Government, but their addiction to dividends from this publicly owned utility is preventing that from happening,” Mr McKinley said.

“If the NSW Government returned these dividend payments, the company would be able to save hundreds of regional jobs.”

Publicly owned electricity distributor Essential Energy has today been granted permission to slash 600 regional jobs across NSW following a decision of the full bench of the Fair Work Commission, with forced redundancies expected to commence within weeks.

The decision also removed any restriction of forced job cuts from 1 July 2018, allowing an unlimited number of highly-skilled power workers from rural and regional communities across the state to be axed.

The written decision also revealed that Essential Energy management intends to use outsourcing to carry out further cuts, with the company’s eventual target seeing in one in every two jobs go, allowing the size of their workforce to be halved to 1,600 employees by the 2019 financial year.

The FWC rejected a submission from power unions that no redundancies occur before the Christmas New Year period, allowing Essential Energy to move on redundancies within weeks.

The decision will permit NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy to:
- make up to 600 staff forcibly redundant by 30 June 2018;
- have an unlimited number of additional workers leave the company during the same time period if they accept a voluntary redundancies;
- make an unlimited number of staff forcibly redundant from 1 July 2018; and
- replace regional employees with outsourced contractors.

The FWC made the decision despite admitting that its ruling could be expected to have a substantial impact on workers and regional communities, with the written determination stating:

“In the case of Essential Energy, the effects are magnified because of the specialist skills of many of the employees involved, the location of Essential Energy’s depots in country towns scattered throughout NSW, and the scale of redundancies that have already occurred and will likely occur in the future...

“Employees located in country towns will find it difficult to obtain alternative work, either of a comparable standard or at all, in their current locations… Job opportunities are generally limited, and jobs involving the specialist skills of electrical tradespersons formerly employed by Essential Energy are virtually non-existent...

“It is likely that many redundant employees will have to relocate themselves and their families in order to obtain alternative employment. This will necessarily have direct personal effects on employees and their family members in having to change their house, community and school. It may also have effects on smaller towns in terms of the loss of income able to be spent locally and a possible diminution in community involvement.”

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which together represent the majority of Essential Energy workers, slammed the decision and urged the NSW Government to intervene.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said his union had made multiple attempt to contact new National Party leader John Barilaro, by phone, email and SMS, but so far had received no response.

“This is the time for the National Party to finally stand up for regional NSW and to demand an end to the wholesale axing of quality jobs by publicly-owned organisations across the state,” he said.

“Today’s decision means that, within the next two years, up to 1,600 highly-skilled power workers who live and work in regional NSW could be without a job.

“The economic and social impact of such huge job cuts — which will tear hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economies of rural communities — will be untold human suffering in the communities the National Party claims to represent.

“This is our challenge for John Barilaro: show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange byelection, stop towing the Baird Government’s line, and demand that this publicly-owned company not press ahead with these wholesale job cuts.”

ETU Organiser Justin Page said the ETU were also seeking an assistance package from the NSW Government to provide help for any Essential Energy workers that lose their jobs, including with retraining, small business advice, and recognition of skills and training.

“This decision is one of the biggest blows to employment in regional NSW that has ever occurred,” Mr Page said.

“John Barilaro is now facing his first challenge in his new role as National Party leader and NSW Deputy Premier, and that is to stick up for regional workers and communities directly impacted by this decision.

“The NSW Government, as the owner of 100 per cent of Essential Energy, has the power to intervene and save these jobs.

“All that is needed is for John Barilaro and his National Party colleagues to demand that their coalition partners in the NSW Government put the interests of regional communities ahead of their attempts to squeeze profits out of public companies.”

New Nationals leader John Barilaro will today face his first opportunity to defend regional jobs and services, with the full bench of the Fair Work Commission handing down a long-awaited decision that may allow the publicly-owned electricity distributor to make hundreds of workers forcibly redundant.

Mr Barilaro’s predecessor Troy Grant repeatedly failed to intervene after the NSW Government-owned company took the unprecedented step of applying to unilaterally terminate an existing workplace agreement, which would allow it to remove existing job protections, as well as cutting pay and conditions.

The Electrical Trades Union said the former leadership of the National Party had repeatedly failed to stand up to their Liberal masters in Macquarie Street, with cuts to jobs and services contributing to the shock defeat of the party in the Orange byelection.

The union highlighted written media releases from Mr Barilaro ahead of the 2015 election, saying his new position as party leader and Deputy Premier meant it was time for him to put these pledges into action.

The statements include: “I support lower electricity prices, but I will always lead the charge in protecting local electricity jobs” (9/3/2015), and “a key priority for this government is about creating and securing local jobs” (17/3/2015).

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said the decision, to be handed down at 10.30am in Sydney, was the first test of whether the National Party under the leadership of John Barilaro would fight to protect regional jobs.

“Before the election, John Barilaro talked a good game, making firm promises that he would lead the charge to protect regional jobs,” Mr McKinley said.

“This week, with all the power that comes from being Deputy Premier and leader of the National Party, he has chance to put those words into action.

“If, as feared, the Fair Work Commission opens the floodgates to forced redundancies at Essential Energy, we could see hundreds of highly skilled jobs lost from regional NSW.

“The NSW Government, as the owner of 100 per cent of the company, has the ability to act and save these jobs. All that is missing is the political will.”

Mr McKinley also urged Mr Barilaro to meet with power workers and their unions to discuss the impact of job cuts, outsourcing, reductions to maintenance, and privatisation, all of which were harming the regional communities the National Party claims to represent.

“This is Mr Barilaro’s first chance to show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange byelection result and that they are willing to listen to their constituents and use their power within the NSW Government to defend regional jobs and services,” he said.

“If Mr Barilaro fails this test, delivering more of the same behavior of his predecessor, he simply guarantees the community backlash against the National Party will only grow by the next election.”

The axing of more than 2,600 front-line power workers since 2012 has left NSW at risk of falling victim to similar chaos to that experienced in South Australia during the past 24 hours, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

The union said cuts overseen by the state and federal governments over the past four years had drastically reduced the number of skilled workers available to respond to major incidents, natural disasters and wild weather, leaving the public at risk of lengthy power outages.

ETU assistant secretary Dave McKinley said the number of front-line power workers across NSW had shrunk by a quarter since 2012, leaving the state increasingly vulnerable to the kind of extreme weather event that struck South Australia.

“What has occurred in South Australia in the past 24 hours could easily happen in NSW,” Mr McKinley said.

“While it is impossible to prevent network damage caused by wild winds and extreme weather, the ability to restore power for consumers is dependent on having the skilled workers available to respond.

“In NSW, we have seen more than a quarter of the entire workforce slashed in the last four years, including 1,385 workers at Ausgrid, 446 from Endeavour Energy, and 800 from Essential Energy.

“When the next disaster inevitably hits, this loss of skilled workers will have a devastating effect on response times and the speed at which power can be reconnected, particularly in the event of a state-wide natural disaster.

“The situation had been exacerbated by the NSW Government’s decision to respond to a recent ruling by the Federal Government’s energy regulator by further slashing the number of front-line power workers.

“The people of NSW have been hung out to dry by the NSW Government, with these massive cuts inevitably going to lead to major disruptions when future disasters strike.”

Mr McKinley said the union was urging NSW power companies to send immediate assistance to South Australia, in the form of workers and specialist equipment.

“Right now, our focusing needs to be on helping the people of South Australia by diverting all available resources and skilled labour to assist with restoring electricity services,” he said.

“The union is calling on the NSW distribution and transmission network companies to provide urgent assistance to our neighbours in their time of need.

“We are also urging them to take a good hard look at the resources they have available moving forward so they can ensure they have the skilled workers and specialist equipment needed to respond to similar events when they occur in NSW.”

The Electrical Trades Union has expressed its unchanged opposition to the privatisation of NSW electricity network businesses following an unsolicited offer from an Australian consortium to buy Ausgrid, which provides electricity to consumers in Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast and Hunter Valley.

The union said the sale of a majority stake would be bad for workers and consumers — regardless of the nationality of the purchaser — inevitably leading to higher prices, cuts to services and job losses.

The ETU is urging bidders AustralianSuper and IFM Investors to publicly commit to the retention of current jobs and service standards, including through legally-binding job protections for all existing employees.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said the unsolicited offer came just a month after Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison blocked a similar sale of the company, citing national security concerns.

“Our position remains unchanged: handing over a monopoly asset that provides an essential service to the community to any private owner will result in higher prices for consumers and bad outcomes for workers,” he said.

“The Federal Government has been advised that it is not in Australia’s national interest for Ausgrid to be sold off to a private entity, and our view is it doesn’t matter whether that buyer is a Chinese company or an Australian super fund, the risks remain the same.

“The only way to guarantee that this company remains fully in Australian hands, and that these risks are appropriately managed, is to keep it in public ownership.”

Mr Butler said the union would continue to demand legally binding protections to jobs and services.

“Our union will continue to work with Fred Nile to ensure legislation enshrining five-year job protections for all NSW power workers are passed through the parliament,” he said.

“AustralianSuper and IFM Investors need to make a public commitment that iron-clad five-year job guarantees for all Ausgrid workers are part of their proposal.

“They also need to ensure that their model for making money out of this investment isn’t built on cutting maintenance or service standards for consumers.

“We will not back down from our commitment to protect the jobs of our members, or the services that Ausgrid provides to the people of NSW.”

The Electrical Trades Union is demanding senior management at publicly-owned electricity network company Essential Energy be held personally accountable for work practices they oversaw that resulted in the preventable death of 47-year-old father Trevor Tooze in 2013.

The call comes as the company was fined $300,000 over the incident, with the court finding the company placed a desire to maintain electricity supplies ahead of safety when workers were told to operate in close proximity to a live 11,000 volt cable, resulting in the preventable death.

An experienced electrical worker, Mr Tooze was one of six workers replacing several kilometres of powerlines on Monday 2 September 2013 along Seal Rocks Road, near Bulahdelah on the NSW mid-North Coast.

At approximately 10.25am, while receiving a copper cable that was being lowered to the ground, Mr Tooze was electrocuted when the cable came into contact with the operational high voltage line.

His colleagues performed CPR, but due to the remoteness of the worksite it took more than half an hour for help to arrive. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

“Trevor’s family, his workmates, and the community deserve to know which senior executive was responsible for prioritising the electricity supply over workers lives on that tragic day,” ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said.

“While the $300,000 fine is a welcome recognition that Essential Energy did the wrong thing, it is consumers who will end up paying it, so it provides little deterrent for unsafe practices.

“We believe the senior executives who were responsible for this policy, who knowingly placed workers in danger for the sake of maintaining electricity services, must be held personally responsible.

“Heads should roll, including Deputy Chief Executive Officer Gary Humphreys who held overall responsibility at the time, to send a message that the community has zero tolerance for the lives of working people being put at risk for the sake of convenience or profits.”

Mr McKinley said Mr Tooze’s death had resulted in changes at the company, including the rollout of almost 200 portable defibrillators following a 12-month union campaign.

“A portable defibrillator would have allowed Trevor to receive treatment within minutes, which would have increased his chances of survival,” he said.

“The ETU campaigned for this change in the hope that it could prevent similar tragedies in future, and there are now defibrillators taken on the road by crews across rural and regional NSW as they carry out maintenance and repair work on the electricity poles and wires.”

Click here to read the SafeWork NSW media release. 

Click here to read a copy of the Essential Energy incident report.

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.”