Essential Energy prepares for 80-hour strike action

Thousands of Essential Energy employees are set to walk off the job next week.

Essential Energy prepares for 80-hour strike action
NSW’s state-owned energy provider is locked in an industrial relations battle with employees and the union as workers prepare to walk off the job next week.

Essential Energy, which owns, maintains and operates the electrical distribution networks for much of the state, has been negotiating a new enterprise agreement with staff and unions for over 12 months.

Tensions are set to reach a new level next week as employees take part in 80 hours of strike action, after the Electrical Trades Union served notice of plans for 20 consecutive four-hour stoppages from 10 pm Monday May 23 until Friday May 27 as part of protected industrial action.

Essential Energy’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Gary Humphreys told HC Online it was “unfortunate” that the parties hadn’t reached common ground during the bargaining period.

He said negotiations with the unions for a replacement Enterprise Agreement began in April 2015, including six days of conciliation facilitated by the Fair Work Commission.

“Throughout this time, Essential Energy has remained at the negotiating table and continues to bargain in good faith, having already tabled two draft agreements,” Humphreys says.

However, the unions rejected this offer as “unacceptable” to its members.

“Unfortunately, the parties remain unable to reach an agreement and, despite union claims that an agreement is close, we remain a considerable distance apart in relation to key aspects of their respective claims, particularly with regard to proposed clauses for redundancy and dispute resolution,” he says.

In June 2015 the publicly-owned company announced plans that it would make hundreds of positions redundant, and ABC reports say Essential Energy will try to axe up to 800 jobs within the next two years.

The new workplace agreement proposed by the company would permit the immediate sacking of 800 regional employees, and allow an unlimited number of job cuts after June 2018.

“These clauses are central to negotiations as Essential Energy seeks to finalise an Enterprise Agreement that provides a greater level of efficiency and flexibility and removes unnecessary cost to customers,” Humphreys says.

Humphreys said the 80-hour period showed a complete disregard for safety, network reliability and customers, including the many life support customers on Essential Energy’s network.

“The unions also seem set on adding to an already challenging situation rather than helping to move the discussion towards an outcome that meets the needs of employees, customers and the business,” he says.

Humphreys said the company held the safety of its employees, contractors and members of the public as its number one priority.

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