Electrical Trades Union and Essential Energy crisis talks "buy time" on job cuts across regional NSW

Job cuts: Essential Energy is looking to cut almost 200 jobs across NSW.
Job cuts: Essential Energy is looking to cut almost 200 jobs across NSW.

Power industry unions reached an in-principle agreement with Essential Energy in the Fair Work Commission on Friday July 5 that will see the company pause planned job cuts across regional NSW until further information is provided to workers and additional consultation takes place.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) said the agreement means no jobs will be lost before mid-August, with unions given an opportunity to propose alternative cost saving measures and initiatives that could avert the need for redundancies.

Last Thursday, July 4, Essential Energy said that 182 jobs would go across the state, with "71 field and 111 non-field positions" to be axed, outraging employees.

It is understood the Port Macquarie office will be the worst affected.

The Port News has viewed an internal Essential Energy document which shows at least 34 jobs are forecast to go in Port Macquarie.

That number is significantly higher than any other location across NSW.

Essential Energy would not corroborate the figure.

"It's important to note that a final figure will be determined through the consultation process, which is not based on location," an Essential Energy spokesperson said.

A copy of the Fair Work agreement between Essential Energy and the ETU, provided to the Port News, contains three components.

The first involves "additional information" distributed to employees affected by job cuts.

The information will include "justification for single role reductions within that particular location [and] the specific impacts on team members including impacts on workloads".

The second component revolves around "accommodating employee preferences" and "recognising that some employees may not be seeking to contest their redundancy".

The third component on consultation will see the date of consultation for the proposed changes extended to August 16.

After four years of deep staffing cuts at Essential Energy - which has not only devastated those workers directly impacted, but has had profound impacts on service delivery and regional communities - today's reprieve is extremely welcome, but is just the start.

ETU secretary Justin Page

ETU secretary Justin Page welcomed the outcome, saying it was vital that workers be given the opportunity to identify alternatives to yet more regional job cuts.

"This is a tough time for Essential Energy workers, their families and colleagues," Mr Page said.

"After four years of deep staffing cuts at Essential Energy - which has not only devastated those workers directly impacted, but has had profound impacts on service delivery and regional communities - today's reprieve is extremely welcome, but is just the start.

"It is important that Essential Energy have agreed to provide detailed information to workers about the reasons for specific cuts and their impacts on the remaining work groups, but better still is their commitment to seriously consider alternative options for cutting costs that would allow these jobs to be saved."

Morale is dead set low.

Essential Energy employee

A person familiar with the negotiations said the union is trying to "buy time".

A current employee of Essential Energy in Port Macquarie told the Port New on July 5 that voluntary redundancies have been knocked back by the electricity provider.

The staff member said "team members are now having to compete for their jobs".

"Morale is dead set low," the employee said.

The employee also disclosed staff had recently been made to watch a video message by CEO John Cleland which said the Essential Energy workforce would be cut from 3000 to 2500 within three to five years.

Essential Energy would not comment on this claim.

But a spokesperson said "Essential Energy is committed to working with its employees, unions and key stakeholders to achieve fair and equitable outcomes while safely and efficiently managing our network and delivering better service at lower cost".

Some staff have questioned financial management of the Buller Street upgrade of the Essential Energy office in Port Macquarie. The upgrade of the building is estimated at $12 million.

An ex-employee of Essential Energy described the Buller Street refurbishment as "unnecessary and insulting to those employees who are losing their jobs", and questioned the breakdown of the project's costs.

The National Party has come out swinging against the state owned electricity distributor.

On July 3 Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams pledged to fight against any forced job cuts at Essential Energy.

Mrs Williams told local media she has made it "crystal clear that she will not tolerate any forced job losses at Essential Energy in Port Macquarie".

"I have spoken directly to the Deputy Premier's office and made it very clear that I will not stand by and see one Essential Energy employee forced out of a position in Port Macquarie," she said.

On July 4 Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall called for the CEO of Essential Energy John Cleland to be stood down.

Swift action: Nationals MP Adam Marshall is calling for the CEO of Essential Energy John Cleland to be stood down. Photo: supplied

Swift action: Nationals MP Adam Marshall is calling for the CEO of Essential Energy John Cleland to be stood down. Photo: supplied

"Essential Energy only has one shareholder which is the NSW Government and I am looking into what powers it has to direct the company board not to continue with this decision immediately," Mr Marshall said.

The Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Essential Energy CEO John Cleland met on July 5 to discuss the job cuts.

  • If you have information you would like to share, contact the Port News at carla.mascarenhas@portnews.com.au

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