Power workers braving dangerous weather fear pending staff cuts will impact future emergency response times

Power workers have braved treacherous conditions over the past 24 hours to restore power to thousands of homes and businesses as wild weather brought down trees and power lines across Sydney, the Illawarra, the Central Coast and Newcastle.

The Electrical Trades Union praised the efforts of thousands of its members who responded to hundreds of calls for assistance after heavy rain and strong winds cut power supplies.

ETU organiser Justin Page said that while most people in the community sheltered at home, away from the wild weather, thousands of electricity workers spent the night in driving rain and strong winds to restore electricity supplies and remove dangerous power lines that had been brought down.

“While most people were in bed last night, thousands of electricity workers worked through the night in dangerous conditions to protect the public from downed power lines and to restore power to more than 130,000 homes and businesses,” Mr Page said.

“What we saw last night was nothing short of devastation, and the clean-up task – including the restoration of power – will continue for several days to come.

“As always, electricity workers put the community first by working around the clock responding to emergency call outs, and the ETU believes these workers deserve recognition for their selflessness and committed service to the public in extremely dangerous conditions.”

Mr Page said that power workers were fearful that proposed job cuts in the sector – which could see more than 4,000 staff axed across NSW – would have a major impact on future emergency responses.

“If the Baird Government presses ahead with cuts of more than 4,000 electricity workers – including frontline emergency response crews – the public can expect to wait much longer to be reconnected following future storm events like the one we have just experienced,” he said.

“The people of NSW pay their electricity bills and expect to receive the highest levels of service during storms, bushfires and other natural disasters, however current service levels will simply not be possible with the frontline job cuts being considered by the NSW Government.

“While these workers were out in force last night, the NSW Government is continuing to refuse to sign a new workplace agreement that would provide reasonable job protections for them by ruling out forced redundancies at network businesses Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.”


  • “Unsung heroes” of storm recovery effort prepare for second East Coast Low to sweep down coast

    Tens of thousands of local government and electricity network employees – who have spent the past fortnight restoring power and repairing community infrastructure following last week’s severe weather – are preparing for a return of wild winds and heavy rainfall.

    The United Services Union, which represents employees in the local government and electricity sectors, praised the efforts of these workers, describing them as “unsung heroes” who deserved gratitude and respect for their selflessness over the past 11 days.

    USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said that while emergency services rightly received the focus of public attention during the storm event, employees of local councils and electricity network companies often had their efforts go under the radar.

    “For nearly two weeks, tens of thousands of workers have undertaken long hours, often in extreme weather conditions, to restore services and repair infrastructure for communities struck by last week’s record-breaking deluge,” Mr Kelly said.

    “Power has been restored to almost a quarter of a million homes, thousands of trees have been removed, roads have been repaired, services have been returned, call centres have been staffed, and the needs of the public put first.”

    Mr Kelly said that while most in the community had seen life return to normal following the extreme weather, these workers had been working long hours to deliver the recovery efforts.

    “Not only have these workers gone above and beyond for 11 straight days, they are now preparing for the potential impacts of another East Coast Low that the Bureau of Meteorology is warning will impact parts of New South Wales in the coming days,” he said.

    “Intense rainfall and strong winds, possibly in areas that already experienced flooding last week, have added to the urgency of recovery work.”

    The union said the commitment of these workers was even more admirable considering the major threats to their industries, with council amalgamations and electricity privatisation likely to cost thousands of jobs in both sectors.

    “A month ago, the NSW public voted for a government that would press ahead with a power sell off and the amalgamation of councils,” Mr Kelly said.

    “But workers have demonstrated their extreme professionalism by ignoring the threats to their own jobs and livelihoods, and instead pressed on with serving the community to the best of their ability.

    “Unfortunately, future natural disasters may not be responded to in such as impressive manner, as amalgamations and privatisation result in a loss of local expertise and resources.”

  • Energy Regulator condemns NSW consumers to reduced services without any guarantee power prices will fall

    Unions have warned that electricity consumers have been condemned to poorer services, reduced maintenance, and slower emergency response times following the decision of the Australian Energy Regulator.

    The AER decision, which takes effect from July 1, sets the revenues that publicly-owned network companies Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, TransGrid and Essential Energy can charge private electricity retailers.

    The final determination imposes cuts to revenues of 33 per cent for Ausgrid, 31 per cent for regional provider Essential Energy, 28 per cent for Endeavour Energy, 25 per cent for TransGrid, and 32 per cent for the ACT’s electricity network operator ActewAGL.

    The Electrical Trade Union and United Services Union, which represent workers at the electricity network companies, said the savage cuts would lead to substantial reductions to service delivery, maintenance, and emergency response times.

    They also highlighted that neither the AER, nor the NSW Government, had any legal power to force private energy retailers to pass price reductions on to consumers after retail electricity pricing was deregulated by the Baird Government in July 2014.

    ETU secretary Steve Butler said there was no doubt that the response to last weeks major storm event, which cut power to a quarter of a million homes, would have been substantially slower if these cuts had already been in place.

    “The Federal Government’s energy regulator has condemned the people of NSW to more blackouts, slower reconnection times, reduced maintenance, and a loss of specialist skills, all without guaranteeing consumers will see one cent of savings on their bills,” Mr Butler said.

    “We saw last week why having adequate numbers of highly skilled professionals working on the electricity network is essential.

    “Had these cuts already been in place there is no doubt that hundreds of thousands of consumers would have endured significantly longer delays in having electricity services restored to their homes.”

    USU energy manager Scott McNamara said that while the cuts could result in up to 4,000 job cuts across NSW, unions were working with the NSW Government to find alternatives.

    “The AER determination is about the revenue network companies can recover from their ‘regulated asset base’ and is not connected to employee numbers,” Mr McNamara said.

    “The AER determination does not limit the amount of income these businesses can generate from other sources, including in area’s such as contestable work.

    “There are many alternatives to mass sackings, and we will not allow management to use the AER determination as an excuse to get rid of thousands of workers ahead of the NSW Government’s planned privatisation.”

    Both unions highlighted their commitment to work with the network companies, Networks NSW, and the Baird Government, to identify alternatives to job and service cuts.

    “There are a range of alternatives to job cuts that we have already identified,” Mr Butler said.

    “There include re-entering the market for contestable work, eliminating the executive bonus scheme, looking for opportunities around the National Broadband Network rollout, retraining and redeploying displaced workers, and using early retirement schemes.

    “We are also deeply concerned for current and future apprentices and their ability to secure full time ongoing employment.

    “Cuts of this scale risk losing a whole generation of workers – and the specialist skills they possess – leading to inevitable skills shortages in the future.

    “One thing that can be guaranteed is that no region of NSW will be spared if massive job cuts are implemented.”

    Mr McNamara said the AER had to be honest with consumers, and admit they were powerless to ensure any cuts flowed through to power bills.

    “The AER is powerless to force electricity retailers to pass on these reductions, and the experience of Victoria has been that similar reductions simply resulted in retailers taking the additional money as profit,” he said.

    “So consumers will receive poorer services, but may not see any financial benefit.

    “The AER seems to be relying on the goodwill of private retailers to pass on possible saving.”

    The unions also highlighted that the AER was bound by a set of rules when making determinations, and they these had been set out by energy minsters from each state and territory.

    They were last agreed to in 2012, when Chris Hartcher was Energy Minister in the O’Farrell Government.

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