Electricity, Water and Utilities

The Essential Energy agreement arbitration continued yesterday. Scott Berryman completed his evidence which brings to a close evidence from Essential Energy witnesses.

Despite all of Essential Energy’s provocations about their ability to contract out work Essential Energy witnesses were unable to identify a single example where the business has not been able to implement their plans. It would appear that the company simply wants to implement their plans without the need to consult or consider the views of those effected.

In the course of his evidence Scott Berryman did not dispute the fact that No Forced Redundancy provisions have existed for many decades at the company and that this has never been a major issue in the past.

The Full Bench questioned Essential Energy witnesses about the effectiveness of a Dispute Settlement Procedure if it didn’t include the need for status quo for at least some period of time. The point being that if no status quo provision exists the Dispute Resolution Procedure becomes somewhat of a toothless tiger with the company being able to push ahead with change.

Further discussion was had around the Dispute Settlement Procedure, in particular a proposal that would see the need for both parties of a dispute (company & workforce) to agree before a matter could proceed to arbitration. The Full Bench made the point that a party would be unlikely to agree to an arbitration if that party believed they would not win, potentially rendering this part of the Dispute Resolution Procedure worthless.

Dr Lyn Chester commenced her evidence around the AER with the Essential Energy legal team cross examining her evidence. Essential Energy have been arguing that they must take action to lower electricity prices but they refuse to acknowledge that at the same time the company is appealing the AER decision to in fact increase prices, nor do Essential Energy acknowledge that there is no regulatory or legal mechanism to force electricity retailers to pass on any cost savings to consumers.

All evidence will conclude today with Dr Lyn Chester continuing this morning. ETU Secretary Steve Butler and former USU Organiser Natalie Falvey will take to the stand this afternoon which will wrap up the evidence stage of the case.

Final submissions will be made on 16 September before the Full Bench adjourns for deliberations before handing down a ruling.

Yesterday saw Gary Humphries continue on the witness stand where he continued in his attempt to justify Essential Energy’s attacks on its workforce.

Once Humphries was finished Luke Jenner took to the stand where he admitted that Essential Energy had already reduced employee numbers by more than 1,000 in recent years, he also confirmed that contracting out is still very much on the company’s agenda.

It was outlined that no decision had been made within the company on the exact extent of the number of forced redundancy but if past comments heading into EBA negotiations are anything to go by this company wants to be nothing more than an asset and contract manager while directly employing as few people as possible.

It was acknowledged that the company will vigorously pursue forced redundancy as they enact future downsizing plans. It was also admitted that the number of redeployees across the company now numbers just 47 with most currently on forced leave – forced by the company to use personal entitlements in yet another attack from management.

Scott Berryman commenced evidence late in the afternoon and he will continue with his evidence today after which the ETU’s expert witness, Dr Lyn Chester, will appear to provide evidence around the AER and its relationship with Essential Energy.

It is expected that ETU secretary Steve Butler will be called by Essential Energy for cross examination either this afternoon or tomorrow where he will stridently defend ETU members and the unions position.

The Essential Energy arbitration continued yesterday with Gary Humphries in the witness box all day. During his time giving evidence Gary Humphries continually tried to justify his decision to strip away employee working conditions at Essential Energy.

The issue of redundancy featured heavily throughout the day and the full bench heard that Essential Energy currently have one of the lowest redundancy packages when compared to other distributors across Australia. Through their evidence it is clear that Gary Humphries and Essential Energy are determined to try and further reduce redundancy entitlements.

The Full Bench appeared genuinely interested to try and understand the AER process and determination and the reasons why Essential Energy are seeking such large staff reductions. It was clear that Essential Energy had used the original AER determination as a convenient excuse for savage staff cuts but now this determination has been thrown out Essential Energy were back tracking with new arguments on why they need such large cuts to staff numbers.

This appears to be a significant change in the company’s original bargaining position and is clear that the AER was nothing more than an excuse for management to slash the Essential Energy work force.

Gary Humphries will continue in the witness box this morning and will be followed by Luke Jenner and Scott Berryman later today. It is now likely that the union witness will appear from tomorrow.

Yesterday marked the start of the Fair Work Commission arbitration for a new Essential Energy Agreement. The Full Bench is made up of Vice President Hatcher, Deputy President Sams and Commissioner Spencer, I am advised this is a balanced full bench.

Yesterday started with introductory submissions which when complete will be followed by witness cross examination. Gary Humphreys was in the witness box yesterday and again today. Other Essential witnesses include Luke Jenner and possibly Scott Berryman.

The Union witnesses are scheduled to appear Tomorrow and will go through until Friday. From the ETU, Neville Betts and I will be witnesses and possibly Matt McCann. We also have an expert witness, Dr Lynne Chester, who will give evidence on the financial aspects of the AER.

The following witnesses are also likely to be called include Margret Buchanan (Professionals Australia), Michael Rizzo, Martín McAuliffe (ETU delegate) and Natalie Falvie (former USU Organiser).

There is a total of 5 days of hearings this week followed by another day on the 16th September.

A late submission from Essential Energy lawyers will argue that the Fair Work Commission cannot deal with the issues of redundancy or contractors on the basis of a State vs Commonwealth constitutional argument, however this is something the ETU lawyers are not overly concerned about. 

Once the hearing concludes the full bench will retire to consider their decision and it is possible this decision will take a number of weeks meaning that an outcome may not be known until October. We will advise members of the decision and its impact once we have received it and understand the detail.

We have stuck tight with each other let’s keep that up and look after each other in whatever ways we can. Your collective efforts have been an inspiration.

In unity,
Steve Butler

The NSW Branch of the ETU/CEP has donated $10,000 towards the fighting fund to support the 55 sacked CUB workers in Melbourne who are members of the ETU and the AMWU.

On top of this NSW construction industry members chipped in a further $2,000 out of their own pocket while an AMWU/ETU fundraiser last Wednesday night saw another $5,000 raised bringing the total to almost $20,000.

ETU Secretary Steve Butler said that the actions of CUB were un-Australian which is a far reach from a company that trades so heavily on what it is to be an Australian.

“As an act of solidarity these funds will be provided to help support the effected workers and assist their campaign for full re-instatement” said NSW Secretary Steve Butler.

“This is what being union is all about, standing united and supporting each other in times of need.”

“I have personally visited the picket line in Melbourne and I have meet these workers and understand what they are going through as a result of this bastard act from their employer.”

“I am proud of our membership in NSW for stepping up to the plate to support our brothers and sisters in Victoria during this dispute.” said Steve.

“I encourage all members, their families and friends to consider supporting other brands when next visiting the local bottle shop.” Steve said

Just minutes ago Treasurer Scott Morrison announced that the two bidders in the Ausgrid privatisation process have been blocked in a preliminary investment decision.

The Foreign Investment Review Board has reviewed details from the Ausgrid bidders - Cheung Kong Infrastructure and State Grid Corporation of China - and determined that matter surrounding National Security have not been adequately addressed and on this basis the bidders will be blocked.

Cheung Kong Infrastructure and State Grid Corporation of China both have the opportunity to respond before 18 August after which a final decision will be made on the appropriateness of the sale to these foreign investors.

A full copy of Scott Morrisons statement can be seen below.

 

 

The ETU NSW Branch has swung their support behind our Victorian brothers in their fight against Carlton & United Breweries after CUB contracted out the jobs of 54 electricians and fitters and offered the workers to reapply for their old jobs on 65% less pay.

The ETU NSW, AMWU and Unions NSW are hitting the streets tomorrow to raise awareness of this bastard act with members of the public. WE ARE ASKING ALL ETU MEMBERS TO ATTEND ONE OF THE ACTIONS OCCURING TOMORROW IN SYDNEY CBD, PARRAMATTA AND PENRITH.

We will be handing out flyer asking members of the public to boycott CUB products including VB. Details for each event can be found below - please click on the link for each event for full details.

SYDNEY CBD - CLICK HERE (Pitt St Mall, 12noon - 1pm Friday 12 August outside Myer handing out flyers. Contact Salim Babar: 0417 286 482)

PARRAMATTA - CLICK HERE (Pitt St Mall, 12noon - 2pm Friday 12 August outside Myer handing out flyers. Contact Iris Knight 0429 464 064)

PENRITH - CLICK HERE (Penrith Plaza - Riley St 12noon - 2pm outside Westfield entry/exit handing out flyers. Contact Mary Yaager 0408 931 899)

 

ETU members at Wagga’s water supply authority Riverina Water took the fight up to council management during recent enterprise award negotiations by flexing their industrial muscle through industrial action. For the first time in living memory workers at Riverina Water had to resort to work bans and limitations to advance their wage claims which became bogged down by an obstinate and sometimes hamstrung management team. Long-time ETU delegate Andrew Clarke along with ETU Organiser Matt McCann led the negotiations on behalf of the Electricians, with Andrew playing a vital role in providing support and valuable background information through the process.

Negotiations commenced in late 2015 and involved other unions including the USU and LGEA. After many protracted and often laborious meetings the workers came to the conclusion in May this year that what was needed was a bit of old fashioned industrial argy bargy. In a refreshing change for the ETU Organiser the workers were able to rely on the tried and tested method of taking industrial action. A meeting was held, a report was given and the decision by the majority to take industrial action was made. No need for protected action ballots in this case as the workers are covered by NSW state industrial laws.

The council tried to ride out the overtime and on-call bans by pressuring some of the LGEA members to hold the fort so to speak. Whilst it was unfortunate that LGEA members were reluctant to participate in the industrial action, they did remain solid by not covering the call outs etc.

The attempt to ride it out by council blew up in their face big time after a water main burst over the weekend that ended up costing council a hell of a lot more money that they were trying penny pinch off the workers. With little choice available to the council after the workers escalated the industrial action the following week to introduce “wild cat” bans, we were in front of Commissioner Tabbaa in the NSW IRC who saw through the lame arguments put by the Local Government Association as to why we got to where we were. A conciliation process was entered into which saw a vastly improved offer put to the workers and whilst it was marginally short of the preferred outcome, it was finally accepted by the majority.

“We were originally stuck a fair way from where we wanted to be in regards to a wage outcome and if it wasn’t for the efforts of the blokes in taking a stand we would still be talking the legs off the chairs”. McCann said.

The final outcome saw the council eventually agree to roll over the existing agreement with a 2.8% wage increase in year 1 and 2.5% each year after that. The important thing was to lock in the existing conditions as council had sought a number of things back in this agreement and were negotiated and earned through previous award negotiations.

On the 20th July 2016, The Secretary of the ETU Steve Butler wrote to Trevor Armstrong raising concerns at the lack of progress on asbestos remediation and removal at Ausgrid as well as not fulfilling the other undertakings associated with the Asbestos Heads of Agreement signed by the ETU and Ausgrid back in March 2013. Mr. Armstrong responded to that correspondence on 22 July 2016 and we have in turn responded. This correspondence has been attached, along with the March 2013 Heads of Agreement for member’s reference.

On the 22 July the ETU supported by other unions including the USU, RTBU and the PSA conducted a protest rally outside the offices of Ausgrid and then proceeded with police escort to the state parliamentary office of Premier Mike Baird in Martin Place. The purpose of the rally was to highlight the fact that since 2002 there have been over 42 asbestos related diseases in the electricity supply industry over 29 of which Ausgrid have contributed to. Of those over 42 diseases over 7 have resulted in deaths and given the above proportions you can bet Ausgrid has contributed to the majority of those deaths. In response to the rally Trevor Armstrong sent out a broadcast to employees basically stating that Ausgrid are doing a great job of fixing up the asbestos issue and that there is no problem. We have been informed otherwise by our members. Whilst ever the statistics continue to show that asbestos related disease and deaths increase we will not let up until Ausgrid accept their responsibility and institute best practice and remove all asbestos from the network so that there is zero risk to our members.

In accordance with the Heads of Agreement which was signed by the ETU and Ausgrid back in March 2013, there are several undertakings that Ausgrid gave which we need to keep them accountable for. In particular I highlight the following clauses in that agreement;

1.3  Ausgrid will remediate and remove friable asbestos from the 10 substations identified in the letter from Ausgrid to the ETU dated 30 December 2012 and develop a program for removing doors that contain asbestos in underground CBD substations. If members know of substations that still contain asbestos fire doors they should notify me by email.

1.4  Ausgrid  will develop  a program  for the  remediation  of  other  asbestos  components  of substations and facilities (not necessarily identified in the audits) which workers have highlighted and which have either become friable or have the potential to become friable due to regular  movement  such  as, for  example,  asbestos  cabinet  doors  on LV CBD  substation trunking boards. The development of this program will follow a risk based approach. If members know of substations and facilities that still contain friable asbestos or asbestos that could become friable they should notify me by email.

1.5  Ausgrid will consider the risks and implications from asbestos removal by carrying out 'pilot' analysis at Mason Park and then using the outcomes of that analysis to carry out work on a broader program for removal of asbestos and labelling as required by regulation, with a focus on risk based priorities for asbestos removal.  As per the commitments at the Fair Work Commission, this analysis will be completed by 31 May 2013. This pilot  analysis will be developed  by Ausgrid  in consultation  with  its  employees  as  the  basis  for seeking  the remediation on the sub transmission network and for a program of asbestos removal across the network.

 Mr.Armstong’s response to the ETU on this point was a as follows;

A comprehensive audit of the Mason Park site was conducted in accordance with the agreement. It identified two asbestos items on electrical equipment that required remediation. Following the Mason Park audit, corresponding audits were conducted on Ausgrid's other Subtransmission and Zone Substations sites to identify any similar issues. The removal program was completed by May 2015. Clearance certificate documentation for all removals is listed on the asbestos register.

You will note that this response conveniently ignores the last sentence of the undertaking in Clause 1.5

“This pilot analysis will be developed  by Ausgrid  in consultation with  its employees  as the  basis
for seeking  the remediation on the sub transmission network and for a program of asbestos removal
  across the network
.

Accordingly members should email me instances where they know that   asbestos exists across the network so that we can highlight these to Ausgrid.

We will keep members updated on the progress of this renewed campaign. In the meantime I urge all members to exercise the upmost vigilance and safe work practices in being proactive when dealing with this deadly material. The bottom line is if you don’t think you can perform work around or on asbestos containing materials then don’t do it. Please be vigilant in also identifying to the union the instances above where asbestos is present on the network so that we can continue to keep Ausgrid accountable. Please enter ‘”Asbestos Audit” in the subject line of the email.

EBA – NO RESPONSE TO COMBINED UNION’S PROPOSAL FOR WAGE FREEZE

It has now been over 6 weeks since the unions proposed the wage freeze as an alternative to Ausgrid’s job slashing proposal of forced redundancies. We have had no response from Ausgrid management who have clearly been sidelined by the NSW Treasury while they decide whether the Chinese government or a Chinese corporation purchases this vital strategic asset. The ETU has been in discussions with independent federal MP’s Mr. Xenophon and Mr. Katter who have voiced opposition to the sale. We also continue to lobby the Rev Fred Nile at the state level for support in moving amendments to close legislative loop holes in the job guarantees which Ausgrid are attempting to exploit.

AER PHASE 2 REDUNANCIES

Consultation is nearing completion with the ETU securing many improvements through the process including a fairer desktop assessment process based on actual skills obtained, an appeals mechanism and a more logically sequenced approach based on trade transfers first then mix and match then regional identification of surplus staff.

Document: Asbestos Correspondence Trevor Armstrong 1 August

Document: Asbestos Working Arrangements Heads of Agreement 19 March 2013

In Unity,

Mark Buttigieg