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Essential Energy staff cuts commence

Geoff Helisma

Essential Energy (EE) has announced the first phase of its proposed workforce reductions.
These workforce cuts are a consequence of a determination by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), which reduced the revenue that EE can recover over the five-year period (2015-19) from EE’s proposal of $5545.7m to $3,826.1m.
The AER has estimated that residential bills will fall by “$313 (or 11.9 per cent) in 2015–16 and remain relatively stable over the rest of the period covered”.
For small business customers, the estimated reduction is “$528 (or 11.9 per cent)”.
Essential Energy reduced its network charges to customers by an average of $313 per annum on July 1, 2015.
Grafton will shed 15 jobs and one will go in Maclean – other nearby depot job cuts include the loss of nine at Coffs Harbour, six at Casino, nine at Lismore and two at Ballina.
A depot at Woodburn is one of 10 being closed.
Phase one of the job cuts will number 700, while phase two will see a further 695 positions go.
According to EE, there will be a 20 per cent reduction to senior management staff – 288 staff have taken voluntary redundancies since July 1.
Essential Energy’s deputy chief executive officer, Gary Humphreys, said an outcome from of EE’s latest appeal on elements of the AER’s determination is expected in late 2015.
“Our revised regulatory proposal submitted to the AER in January this year had proposed a sensible three-year transitional approach, utilising natural attrition and further productivity improvements to reduce our costs to customers,” Mr Humphreys said.
Meanwhile, the ETU (Electrical Trades Union) has said “the treatment of workers whose jobs have been declared ‘unfunded’ was particularly nasty, with as little as one week of transition training being provided before workers are forced to start using up their … annual leave and other entitlements”.
“Last week we wrote to government and non government MPs with job losses in their electorate, asking for their urgent assistance,” ETU deputy secretary Neville Betts said in September 8 media release.
From the NSW Government’s perspective, on one hand it supports the AER cuts; however, it does not support AER’s failure to “provide for a redundancy payment or workable transition plan for the thousands of workers to be affected”, or provide for “appropriate funding for vegetation management and bushfire mitigation”.
A successful motion in the NSW Parliament on June 2 “calls on the AER to provide a glide path to the 11 per cent price reduction by supporting workers and bushfire mitigation in the appeal process”.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, who lodged a “personal appeal to the AER’s draft determination on behalf of the Clarence electorate”, told the Independent that he had attempted to meet, unsuccessfully, with EE employees on two occasions before the March state election.
He said he and his Nationals colleagues “did everything we could to preserve regional jobs and make sure there was network safety”.
However, he said: “At the end of the day the horse has bolted, the AER has handed down its determination.
“We believe prices can come down, but we also need to consider the drastic measure that they adopted has on regional jobs and network safety,” he said.
“EE has taken the matter to appeal … and that’s really the next phase of determining this whole matter.”
On the parliamentary June 2 resolution, Mr Gulaptis said it was the “only avenue left to support workers”, and while it couldn’t restore the job cuts that are already underway, “it can assist with determining, certainly easing any [phase] two staff reductions”.