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October 25, 2021

Energy jobs could still be lost, despite ruling

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Jobs of hundreds of Essential Energy workers on the north coast are still uncertain despite a federal court ruling in their favour.
Jobs of hundreds of Essential Energy workers on the north coast are still uncertain despite a federal court ruling in their favour.

Chris Dobney

Hundreds of members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) on the north coast  could still be handed redundancies despite a court ruling on Friday that the methodology the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) used to justify them was flawed.

The regulator ruled in April last year that the prices charged by energy networks, including Ausgrid and Essential Energy, were too high but the companies argued that the only way to make the savings it required would be to cut thousands of frontline jobs.

The Australian Competition Tribunal (ACT) determined on Friday that ‘it is in the long term interests of consumers of electricity and gas to set aside the AER’s decisions and have the AER make them again,’ adding ‘the impact on the suppliers’ revenues and hence the prices they may charge, will not be known until the AER remakes its decisions.’

The ETU, whose members constitute most of the threatened workers, has hailed the decision but warned that their jobs are not yet safe.

Many Essential Energy workers on the north coast, including meter readers, have already had their work outsourced but crews that maintain lines and repair outages are still waiting to discover their fate.

Rethink urged

ETU’s north coast representative Geoff Prime said Essential Energy ‘now need to seriously rethink their application of the AER original decision, whereby this year they have targeted 800 jobs in rural communities including the north coast of NSW. ‘

‘Any loss of regional jobs will have a devastating effect on local communities as Essential Energy management, including [north coast resident] COO Garry Humphries, should know,’ Mr Prime told Echonetdaily.

ETU state secretary Steve Butler agreed the decision should ‘force a rethink of the significant job cuts being pursued by Essential Energy, Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.’

‘Thousands of proposed job cuts being pursued by the publicly-owned electricity companies… were based on the flawed AER determination and should now be abandoned,’ Mr Butler said.

‘The loss of loyal, highly-skilled workers across the state is short-sighted and will inevitably impact on consumers through poorer services in the future,’ he added.

Mr Butler urged the AER to take ‘a more sensible approach when remaking their determination, with a greater emphasis on striking a balance between price, safety and reliability.’

Greens support

The ETU has received unexpected support in its campaign from the Greens.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said he ‘knew from the start the AER’s modelling was dodgy,’ and that seeing it overturned was ‘great news for workers threatened by deep cuts.’

‘Cuts to [operational expenditure] would have seen thousands of line workers lose their jobs and a significant cut to maintenance funding, threatening the reliability of the electricity supply to NSW consumers,’ Mr Shoebridge said.

‘The determination of the Tribunal is a hammer blow to the Baird government’s case for privatisation, and shows that the grid needs to remain in public hands where spending decisions are made for the benefit of workers and consumers, not the profit margin of multinational consortiums.

‘The Greens stand with electricity workers and the ETU in welcoming this decision, and we hope to see a far better deal for workers out of the new determination,’ Mr Shoebridge said.

Labor supported flawed process

Mr Butler also hit out at opposition leader Luke Foley over his support for the ‘flawed AER process’.

‘Luke Foley simply has no idea when it comes to delivering an affordable, safe and reliable electricity network that best serves the interests of the people of NSW,’ Mr Butler said.

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