After long and arduous negotiations it appears that we have arrived at a point where a new agreement will be presented to Essential Energy members in the first quarter of next year but there are a number of things that must first occur before we get to any ballot.
To recap, members will recall that the employee negotiation team met with Essential Energy management on the 20th of November and agreed in principle on the new agreement. Following this meeting the negotiating team recommended the agreement to a meeting of ETU delegates who overwhelmingly endorsed the proposal.
Gary Humphries wrote to the ETU on the 21" of November confirming the offer from the company discussed the day before. This correspondence outlined a number of clauses that would be included in any new agreement - a copy of recent correspondence between the company and the ETU can be found below including a copy of the draft agreement.
On the 26th of November the ETU wrote to Vince Graham to seek guarantees on the matters of no forced redundancies and for amendments to the redundancy policy. Gary Humphries and Vince Graham responded to this correspondence on the 28th of November and the 3rd of December in which the company proposed changes to the management of surplus employees policy and indicated that the only form of redundancies for the life of the agreement will be voluntary.
While these letters provide some comfort it remains a fact that this correspondence sits outside the agreement. This approach is not dissimilar to the approach taken at Ausgrid and Endeavour so in this respect the draft Essential Energy agreement is the same.
On the 3rd of December the ETU responded to Vince Graham indicating that the exchange of correspondence providing changes to the redeployment policy and guarantees from Vince Graham on behalf of Essential Energy that there will be no forced redundancies, was acceptable to the union.
The final matter to be dealt with in these negotiations revolves around Scope and it has been agreed by both management and the unions on behalf of our members that this matter will be referred to the Fair Work Commission for Consent Arbitration. This matter is scheduled to be heard by Deputy President Hamberger on the 16th and 17th of December with further hearings possible sometime in January before we can expect a decision that may be handed down in late January or early February.
The ETU and Essential Energy have agreed on the above process in order to deal with the matter of scope. We believe that this process is fair and allows the independent umpire to make their decision. If the company refuse to stand by their word and do not proceed to consent arbitration or do not accept the outcome of the Fair Work Commission we will be left with no other option but to withdraw our in principle support for the draft agreement. This would be a major setback in negotiations.
Both parties have agreed to waive any appeal rights in this case and accept the outcome of the independent umpire.
Once this matter has been settled by the Fair Work Commission a draft agreement will be circulated to all Essential Energy employees - likely to be sometime in February. This draft agreement must be provided to the workforce for a period of 7 days before a ballot can commence. The ballot is likely to be a postal ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission which generally takes three weeks after which time the votes are counted.
If the agreement is supported by a majority it will than proceed to the certification phase which can take another couple of weeks. If the agreement is voted down then we will be back at square one, all bets will be off and we start over again including the members' ability to apply for and take future protected industrial action if necessary.
Our current period of protected industrial action will expire on the 15th of December and while members did not need to undertake the threatened action, the simple fact that members were prepared to stand together and be counted was critical.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single delegate from across Essential Energy and in particular the employee reps on the negotiating team. This round of negotiations would have to be one of the most difficult that I can remember in recent times and the outcome that it looks like you have achieved is a credit to each and every one of you.
To all members I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a safe new year and I will be sure to provide any further updates should this be necessary.
Yours in unity
Click here to view correspondence between the ETU and Essential Energy.
Click here to view a copy of the draft agreement.