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Government fights itself over EE job cuts

Geoff Helisma |

The political posturing surrounding the latest round of proposed Essential Energy (EE) job cuts bears a resemblance to that which failed to stop more than 2,000 job cuts that commenced in 2015.

“Essential Energy is a NSW Government-owned corporation, with responsibility for building, operating and maintaining Australia’s largest electricity network…” says the EE website.

This time round EE is cutting 165 regional jobs across EE’s 100 regional depots, says the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

“The company has privately told workers that the Port Macquarie, Grafton, Taree, Bathurst and Lismore regions will be particularly hard hit,” an ETU media release states.

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said in a media release titled, ‘Gulaptis to fight for essential energy jobs’ that he “has issued a stern ‘please explain’ to Essential Energy over its decision to cut regional jobs including at its Grafton depot”.

“On first hearing about the proposed cuts, I sought an immediate explanation from Essential Energy and quite frankly their response was simply not good enough,” he said.

“I have since spoken with NSW Nationals leader and the minister responsible for regional NSW, John Barilaro, who has called for an immediate halt to any decision by Essential Energy to carry out planned job cuts in the regions.”

Meanwhile, Mr Barilaro said in a July 4 statement: “Even though Essential Energy is a corporatised entity that reports to a board, we will not accept forced job cuts.

“They have been exempt from the state government’s asset recycling program because of the importance of these jobs to regional NSW.

“…Essential Energy needs to be transparent about any planned decision around their regional workforce.

“This morning I have summoned the CEO of Essential Energy to a meeting to explain the company’s position.

“I also expect Essential Energy to provide a briefing to all affected regional MPs about any forced job cuts.”

Mr Gulaptis’s comments are similar to those he made in 2015.

He said at the time that he opposed the idea of further job cuts at EE and that the Nationals didn’t “agree with any job losses”.

However, when the job cuts began, he conceded that he and his “Nationals colleagues did everything we could to preserve regional jobs [but] … at the end of the day the horse has bolted, the Australian Energy Regulator [AER] has handed down its determination” to restrict EE’s revenue for 2015-19 to $3,826.1m, instead of the EE’s proposal of $5,545.7m.

After a lengthy appeal process, the AER accepted EE’s “proposal to recover total revenues of $5,102.6 million”.

Lismore MP, Labor’s Janelle Saffin, has vowed to “fight tooth and nail, [alongside] the Electrical Trades Union, for affected workers”.

“But once a government asset is sold they can get away with sacking workers and providing less service – that will always be the result,” she said.

“It is the Nationals who have to be held to account; we know the Liberals will sell off the kitchen sink with over $70 billion worth of public assets already gone and more in the pipeline.”

The ETU says the “loss of 165 skilled jobs … is devastating news”.

“Since 2015, more than 2,000 jobs have been cut … nearly halving the workforce and drastically reducing the skilled front-line workers available to respond to blackouts, storm damage, or other major incidents,” the ETU media release states.