ETU Sydney Trains organiser Anthony O'Sullivan call for activists to Stop the Sell Off campaign.
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ETU Sydney Trains organiser Anthony O'Sullivan call for activists to Stop the Sell Off campaign.
The Electrical Trades Union has expressed its unchanged opposition to the privatisation of NSW electricity network businesses following an unsolicited offer from an Australian consortium to buy Ausgrid, which provides electricity to consumers in Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast and Hunter Valley.
The union said the sale of a majority stake would be bad for workers and consumers — regardless of the nationality of the purchaser — inevitably leading to higher prices, cuts to services and job losses.
The ETU is urging bidders AustralianSuper and IFM Investors to publicly commit to the retention of current jobs and service standards, including through legally-binding job protections for all existing employees.
ETU secretary Steve Butler said the unsolicited offer came just a month after Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison blocked a similar sale of the company, citing national security concerns.
“Our position remains unchanged: handing over a monopoly asset that provides an essential service to the community to any private owner will result in higher prices for consumers and bad outcomes for workers,” he said.
“The Federal Government has been advised that it is not in Australia’s national interest for Ausgrid to be sold off to a private entity, and our view is it doesn’t matter whether that buyer is a Chinese company or an Australian super fund, the risks remain the same.
“The only way to guarantee that this company remains fully in Australian hands, and that these risks are appropriately managed, is to keep it in public ownership.”
Mr Butler said the union would continue to demand legally binding protections to jobs and services.
“Our union will continue to work with Fred Nile to ensure legislation enshrining five-year job protections for all NSW power workers are passed through the parliament,” he said.
“AustralianSuper and IFM Investors need to make a public commitment that iron-clad five-year job guarantees for all Ausgrid workers are part of their proposal.
“They also need to ensure that their model for making money out of this investment isn’t built on cutting maintenance or service standards for consumers.
“We will not back down from our commitment to protect the jobs of our members, or the services that Ausgrid provides to the people of NSW.”
Power industry unions are urging NSW Premier Mike Baird formally terminate the proposed sale of Australia’s largest electricity network business, Ausgrid, after Treasurer Scott Morrison identified serious national security risks posed by both bidders.
Chinese Government-owned State Grid Corporation of China and Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure, controlled by billionaire Li Ka-shing, were the only remaining companies seeking to take control of the Ausgrid network, which provides electricity to millions of homes and businesses in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast.
The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represent Ausgrid workers, welcomed the Treasurer’s preliminary decision, urging Mr Morrison to stand firm in the face of expected lobbying from Chinese interests and the Baird Government.
ETU secretary Steve Butler said unions had been warning that the sale of Ausgrid to overseas interests was not in the national interest for more than two years.
“We have warned, time and again, that selling an essential service to a foreign investor or government poses serious risks to security, yet the Baird Governments only response has been to accuse us of racism and xenophobia,” he said.
“Today we have been vindicated, with Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Foreign Investment Review Board confirming what we have been saying all along.
“A monopoly asset that not only provides power to millions of homes and businesses, but also to countless government, defence and other critical facilities, is not something that should be sold off to any foreign investor or foreign government, regardless of what corner of the globe they come from.”
USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said Mike Baird’s power privatisation plans were in tatters.
“The only option left for Mike Baird is to abort this sale and commit to keeping our electricity distribution network in public hands,” he said.
“There are only two bidders left for Ausgrid, and the Treasurer has found both pose an unacceptable risk to our national security if they were allowed to take control of the company.
“It’s time the Baird Government stepped back from their ideologically driven privatisation push and put the interests of the Australian people ahead of a short-term cash windfall.”
Dozens of protesters wearing protective asbestos equipment will this morning target the head office of the nation’s largest electricity distributor, Ausgrid, to demand immediate action to safely remove the deadly substance from across the power network.
The Electrical Trades Union wrote to the company this week demanding action after it was revealed that efforts to remove asbestos — including in its most dangerous friable state — had stalled, leaving workers and community members at risk.
The union said documents obtained through freedom of information showed at least 29 current and former Ausgrid employees had been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases — including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer — between 2002 and 2012.
ETU organiser Mark Buttigieg said that with the imminent sale of the company, workers feared the NSW Government was trying to pass the buck, leaving a future owner to deal with the problem.
Protesters in asbestos suits demand removal of deadly substance
Where: outside Ausgrid head office, 570 George Street, Sydney
When: 11.30am TODAY — Friday 22 July, 2016
In 2013, Ausgrid management agreed to a series of remediation actions, including the immediate removal of friable asbestos from 10 substations, an audit of all asbestos-containing material in substations in the Sydney CBD, the provision of extra resources for asbestos removal, and the development of programs to remove and remediate fire doors and other components containing asbestos at substations and in other facilities.
The union this week wrote to Ausgrid chief operating officer Trevor Armstrong to highlight concerns that management had breached this agreement, with asbestos products remaining in substations throughout the CBD and serious cuts to the resources allocated to the issue — including to the company’s Asbestos Management Unit.
“Huge amounts of asbestos remain across the electricity network, from substations in the city to transformers in suburban streets,” Mr Buttigieg said.
“Most concerning is the fact that much of this asbestos is friable, which means the individual fibres are loose and — when disturbed — can easily be inhaled.
“This is the most dangerous form of asbestos, with even the smallest number of asbestos fibres capable of causing debilitating and even deadly diseases.
“We are already seeing two people die every year as a direct result of asbestos related diseases that they contracted while working on the NSW electricity network.”
Mr Buttigieg said Ausgrid appeared to be in breach of commitments made in 2013 that were meant to see a substantial increase in the resources put into identifying and removing asbestos.
The same agreement required the company to implement a process where workers could identify and record the presence and condition of asbestos in customer meter boards, which has also not occurred.
“Asbestos in the power network isn’t just hidden away in big substations, it is found in the meter box on thousands of homes, in transformers on suburban streets, and throughout the electricity infrastructure in Sydney’s central business district,” Mr Buttigieg said.
“The longer it remains there, particularly as it deteriorates over time and releases airborne fibres, the greater the risk that is posed to electricity workers and the general public.
“Rather than pass the buck to a future owner and hope that they will do the right thing, the NSW Government and Ausgrid management need to act now to remove this deadly substance.”
The NSW Auditor-General’s report on the publicly owned electricity businesses, released to parliament today, has highlighted that NSW would be $1.3 billion a year worse off if the Liberals and Nationals get their way with electricity privatisation.
The report reported that total revenue to the NSW Treasury, in the form of dividends and tax equivalents, was a bumper $1.7 billion last financial year.
Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake said that had Premier Mike Baird’s privatisation of half the electricity been in place, it would have meant the loss of $436 million in dividends, and $829 million in income tax equivalents.
“Following Mike Baird’s privatisation, the people of NSW will no longer receive this income, leaving a massive $1.3 billion-a-year hole in the State’s finances,” Mr Kerslake said.
Mr Kerslake said the Auditor-General’s report had also undermined efforts by Treasurer Andrew Constance to blame workers for power price rises, revealing that efficiency improvements delivered by those electricity workers had saved consumers $3 billion over the last three years.
“Power workers have been delivering major efficiency improvements across the network, reducing costs while at the same time cutting the number of customers who experienced blackouts,” he said.
“The Auditor General found that increased service reliability was also the direct result of a $15.2 billion network upgrade carried out since 2009.”
The report did come under fire for relying on inaccurate and out-of-date data — supplied by corporate advisor EY to the NSW Treasury — to argue that NSW electricity users pay the highest price for power.
“On consumer pricing, the Auditor-General has got it wrong, but only because they have relied on inaccurate and outdated data from a politically motivated report produced for the NSW Treasury,” Mr Kerslake said.
“That report compares NSW prices from 2012 to South Australian prices from 2010 to conclude that NSW electricity bills are the highest in the country.
“On the other hand, the latest report from the Federal Government’s Australian Energy Regulator, based on data from 2013, found South Australia has the highest average electricity bill — at $2,335 per annum — while the average NSW consumer pays $1,960.
“Despite his best efforts to drive his ideological privatisation agenda, the numbers simply don’t add up for Premier Mike Baird.”
Power workers across the Hunter Valley, Central Coast and Sydney have commenced wage negotiations with the publicly owned power company Ausgrid.
Unions, on behalf of workers, have tabled documents seeking a modest pay rise and increased job protections ahead of the NSW Government’s plans to privatise the states poles and wires.
Power industry union’s tabled documents ahead of negotiations seeking a 4 per cent wage increase, which represents a small pay rise with inflation currently running at 3 per cent, while having almost no impact on household power prices.
Economic modelling shows that the union’s wage claim would have a minimal impact on electricity bills, representing an yearly increase of just $5.92 for the average power bill, or just eleven cents per week.
Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said it was a small price when it comes to maintaining a highly skilled workforce who are dedicated to serving the people of NSW during time of emergency, like during bushfires or the recent storms.
Mr Butler also said that the workforce had shown constraint while being concerned for the future of their jobs as the government prepares Ausgrid for privatisation.
“What we have at the commencement of these negotiations is a sensible and very modest claim from the workforce,” Mr Butler said.
“These workers are concerned about the NSW Governments plans to privatise the State’s poles and wires, which creates an uncertain future for jobs right across the network.
“We have had economic modelling carried out which shows that a wage increase of 4 per cent will have a very small impact on power prices in the range of eleven cents per week for the average NSW electricity bill.
“Given the dangerous nature of the industry and the 24 hour emergency call out environment that these workers operate in we believe this would be a fair outcome from the negotiations.
“Power workers are also keen to secure a range of job security measures ahead of the government privatisation plans.
“These measures have zero cost impact but provide workers and their families with certainty and security.
“Given the NSW Government wants to privatise Ausgrid we are hoping that the Premier and management will take this into consideration during negotiations and offer workers greater job security and the protections that they are seeking.
“We know that the public are feeling pressure from power prices and that is why we have taken a sensible and fair approach to these wage negotiations.
“On average, power workers in NSW earn the Australian average adult wage of $78,878 a year, which is comparable with power workers from other states including Victoria.
“The workers common sense approach to maintaining existing conditions while seeking greater job security and a modest wage increase is in stark contrast to Ausgrid management who appear more interested in picking a fight with their workforce in the lead up to the government’s privatisation plans.
“It’s disappointing that the company appears to be shaping up for a combative round of negotiations when all the workers really want is a fair go when it comes to a small pay rise and future job security.”
Facts about Ausgrid workers and employment conditions:
Claim: Ausgrid workers get extensive private use of company motor vehicles.
Reality: Ausgrid workers use company vehicles in their day to day work. Currently three frontline workers at Ausgrid have limited private use of company motor vehicles, no other employees are entitled to private use of company motor vehicles.
Approximately 300 staff including Emergency Services Operators and District Operators – frontline workers who respond to emergency incidents such as motor vehicle accidents, building fires and wires down – currently have access to company vehicles when driving to and from work but no private use.
All other employees use company vehicles stored at depots for work purposes during work hours only.
Claim: Ausgrid workers get 26% superannuation.
Reality: Ausgrid workers, like all workers, receive the current 9.5% Superannuation Guarantee Levy (SGL).
Between 2006 and 2012 Ausgrid workers voted to accept lower wage increases in return for an additional 1% per year in superannuation totaling 6% in order to achieve what former Treasurer Paul Keating said was an acceptable level of superannuation as people continue to live longer. As a result of these past trade off’s the majority of Ausgrid workers currently receive 15% superannuation.
Approximately 1,314 Ausgrid workers currently contribute between 1% and 9% of their own money into superannuation on top of the 9.5% SGL and 6% past tradeoffs to receive up to 26% superannuation.
Claim: Ausgrid workers receive generous Long Service Leave entitlements.
Reality: Ausgrid employees accrue long service leave at the rate of 13 weeks for ten years of service which is similar to many other employers across Australia.
Employees who show a long term commitment to serving the people of NSW currently accrue long service leave at a rate 1.7 weeks for the period between 10 years of service and 15 years of service which is the statutory accrual rate in NSW, while employee’s with more than 15 years of service currently accrue 2.7 weeks per year for each year of service over and above 15 years.
These Long Service Leave arrangements have existed in the industry for more than 30 years to encourage the retention of highly skilled trade’s people in a highly technical industry.
These long service leave entitlements do not apply to all workers currently employed by Ausgrid as many workers have less than ten years’ service or leave prior to their ten year anniversary.
Claim: Ausgrid workers get paid overtime to travel to and from work.
Reality: Ausgrid workers travel to and from work in their own time and are not paid to drive to and from their ordinary place of work.
As with many other workplaces should an employee be called in to work after hours by management or should an employee be directed by management to work from a location other than that employees ordinary place of work that employee is paid a small allowance to cover any costs incurred.
This is not a regular occurrence and is always initiated by a management decision.
Claim: Ausgrid Workers receive 4 hours pay for overtime even if they don’t work 4 hours.
Reality: Ausgrid workers who are called out for afterhours work at short notice and who are not required to be available for afterhours work as a part of their roster in some cases receive four hours pay for call out work. It remains a decision of management to call out workers for afterhours work, is generally only for high priority, safety or emergency situations and is not a regular occurrence.
Ausgrid workers are committed and dedicated to serving the public and as a result many workers sacrifice time with their families to respond at short notice and outside their normal rostered hours to dangerous situations as requested by management.
Management have agreed and signed off on workplace agreements that provide 4 hours pay to workers in such circumstances as fair compensation for responding to irregular and high priority situations.
Claim: Ausgrid workers who accept a job at a lower rate continue to get paid a higher salary.
Reality: Ausgrid workers who are displaced from their position by a decision of management, including restructures and are forced to accept a lower paying role currently receive salary maintenance for a period of one year. Salary maintenance results directly from management decisions and is not guaranteed beyond one year.
Ausgrid workers who initiate a transfer to a lower paying job do not receive salary maintenance.
Claim: NSW Power workers are paid too much and have better conditions than power workers in Victoria.
Reality: Power workers in NSW and Victoria have similar employment conditions and rates of pay.
Rates of pay for full time adult workers in NSW range from $44,774 for entry level positions to $143,572 for highly skilled and highly experienced supervisory/management positions. In Victoria entry level rates are $47,290 ranging up to highly skilled supervisory and management positions of $132,626.
The overwhelming majority of frontline power workers earn close to the Australian average adult wage of $78,878. As in all businesses some people earn more than this depending on their skill, experience and responsibilities while others earn less.
Power industry workers in Victoria received three wage increases between December 2011 and August 2013 of 4.5%, 4.5% and 5% while NSW power workers received two pay increases of 2.7% each in 2012 and 2013.
While individual elements of employment agreements may differ the take home pay of power industry workers in NSW and Victoria are comparable. There has been a concerted campaign by the NSW Government, Networks NSW and the NSW power companies to “cherry pick” employment conditions in an attempt to smear power industry workers.
NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance has today demonstrated complete hypocrisy, attacking employment conditions received by electricity workers during emergency incidents while accepting a myriad of taxpayer funded entitlements, including generous travel expenses and a chauffeur driven car.
Mr Constance today described a clause that allows Endeavour Energy employees to be paid for travel time when called to respond to emergency incidents outside of their normal work hours as an “outrageous” perk.
The Electrical Trades Union said the provision only applied to times where motor vehicle accidents, storms, blackouts or major faults cut power services and specialist workers were called in to immediately restore the electricity.
ETU secretary Steve Butler described the comments as a shameful, politically motivated attack aimed at turning the public against electricity workers in retaliation for their campaign against the Baird Government’s plans to privatise the publicly owned poles and wires.
“The Treasurer has not only shown complete contempt for the thousands of electricity workers who are called in following fires, floods and other natural disasters, but he seems completely oblivious to his complete hypocrisy,” Mr Butler said.
“The conditions of employment that the Treasurer has claimed are ‘outrageous’ are not everyday conditions, but only apply when specialist workers are called in after hours to restore power during emergency situations and blackouts.
“While the alleged perk cost taxpayers $1.8 million, Andrew Constance single handedly receives more than $400,000 from taxpayers each and every year.
“In addition to his $249,733 salary, $38,881 for additional expenses, electoral allowance of $92,785, ‘Sydney Allowance’ of $278 a day plus $99.95 per day for meals, the Treasurer also enjoys the luxury of a chauffeur driven car.
“It shows complete contempt for the frontline workers who regularly risk their lives in order to serve the public when they are attacked by a government minister for receiving entitlements that are modest at best and have little to no impact on overall power prices.
“This shameful attack was politically motivated and is simply an attempt to turn the community against hard working electricity workers as payback for their opposition to privatisation.
“Mr Constance owes an apology to the thousands of electricity workers across NSW.”
Premier Mike Baird has been accused of commissioning a publicly-funded report based on fudged numbers and deceptive claims in a last-ditch effort to force his unpopular plan for privatising the electricity poles and wires through meetings of government MPs today.
The report, authored by EY, not only fails to examine the real power prices paid by consumers, instead examining the cost of “network charges”, but it relies on assumptions instead of actual electricity contract pricing, is loaded with exceptions and qualifications, and deliberately omits the most recent publicly available price data.
The document also exposes as a lie statements from Mr Baird and former Premier Barry O’Farrell in recent months that there were “no plans” for electricity network privatisation, with EY confirming they were formally engaged by NSW Treasury to carry out the research on February 21, almost four months ago.
Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake said the report, which compresses two decades of power policy in four states into just 16 pages, contains little credible power price analysis and is little more than a brochure to promote the plan to sell 49 per cent of the publicly owned companies Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid.
“The reason this report examined network costs rather than the real prices electricity consumers pay is because the Premier knew that the privatised power networks in Victoria and South Australia would have come up short,” Mr Kerslake said.
“This report shows that those states have massively under-invested in their electricity network, yet the fact remains that the most recent report from the Australian Energy Regulator said power prices in South Australia were the highest in Australia, while Victorian prices are the same as those in NSW.
“Our warning that private owners of electricity assets will cut network investment in their quest for increased profits is also confirmed, with the figures showing chronic under-investment in the privatised states.
“This lack of investment was highlighted by the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, which found poor maintenance on power lines caused five of the deadly Black Saturday bushfires that claimed 173 lives.
“It is also the reason that during periods of high demand, such as extreme weather, the Victorian and South Australian networks often fail, while our publicly-owned network remains safe and operational.”
Mr Kerslake said the major reason behind increases to network charges in NSW in recent years were changes to the network reliability standard, which had delivered more reliable services.
"NSW electricity consumers have just paid for a comprehensive network upgrade, costing $15.2 billion between 2009 and 2014, to make sure they have access to a safe, reliable power supply,” he said.
“While this investment cycle has just come to an end in our state, it is about to commence in Victoria and South Australia, meaning network costs in those states will need to increase.
“Extraordinarily, now that taxpayers have funded the vital upgrades we needed to take our electricity network into the future, Premier Mike Baird wants to hand over these assets to his private sector mates.”
The EY report has also come under fire for its questionable methodology, reliance on assumptions rather than actual electricity prices, selective timeframes, and use of out-dated reports from the Australian Energy Regulator.
“We’re happy to have a debate built on facts, but what the Premier has delivered is a highly questionable report with holes so big you could drive a truck through them,” Mr Kerslake said.
“It has clearly been commissioned with the aim of delivering a predetermined outcome, which is why it focused on network charges rather than the actual prices paid by consumers.
“The only way to provide a truthful comparison to the people of NSW is by using the actual price consumers pay for their electricity — rather than the network charges which make up just one component of power pricing.”
Mr Kerslake said that the core issue of how privatisation would impact on electricity consumers, power workers, and the broader community had still not been addressed by the Premier.
“A seemingly endless procession of government MPs have come out in the last week to warn that privatisation will cause higher prices, reduced services, and the loss of jobs,” he said.
“The only way to avoid these outcomes is to keep these profitable power companies in public hands.
“Job guarantees are temporary, power price regulations are difficult, and the enforcement of service standards is challenging — as we saw with the Black Saturday bushfires — meaning whatever the Premier’s promises are, there’s no way he can deliver on them.
“Mike Baird seems hell bent on this ideologically-driven privatisation, leaving it up to his Liberal and National Party MPs to stand up to him, defend the best interests of their local communities, and vote down this plan.
“At the very least they must ensure the people of NSW get a say on the future of their most valuable public asset through a referendum on the future of our electricity network.”
Read the highly conditional EY report: Electricity Network Services: Long-term trends in price and cost
Incoming NSW Premier Mike Baird needs to learn from the Australian Water Holdings inquiry by pushing back against the lobbyists, vested interest groups and Liberal Party insiders advocating for the sale of the publicly owned electricity poles and wires.
The Electrical Trades Union is warning that the power privatisation debate has similarities to the AWH scandal, with those hoping to gain financially from a sale using their influence to push the NSW Government towards a policy opposed by the overwhelming majority of voters.
The union said one of the most ardent advocates for a sell off, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, has strong links to the Liberal Party and Mr Baird personally, with IPA CEO Brendan Lyon being a former Liberal Party member and former employee of the incoming Premier’s father, Bruce Baird.
In addition, former Liberal Premier Nick Griener and former Victorian Liberal Minister Mark Birrell are “patrons” of IPA, with their connections presumably used to open doors at a state and federal level.
ETU secretary Steve Butler said that if Mr Baird wanted to clear the stench of corruption from NSW politics, his first actions should be to stand up against the influence of big money on government policy.
“The push to privatise our publicly owned power assets isn’t being driven by the public — independent polling has consistently shown they are overwhelmingly opposed — instead it is being advocated by vested interests and political lobbyists to deliver a financial windfall for their privatesector backers,” Mr Butler said.
“At its core, the AWH scandal was about private individuals seeking to enrich themselves on public assets, and trying to manipulate our political system to deliver that outcome.
“We are seeing the exact same approach to power privatisation, with Liberal Party insiders, well-paid lobbyists, and vested interest groups using their influence to try and see the electricity poles and wires handed to the private sector for their financial benefit.”
Mr Butler said that while Mr Baird had been an advocate for a sell off as Treasurer, the job of Premier requires him to set aside his personal views and represent the interests of the NSW community.
“The facts are that not only do the vast majority of people in NSW oppose the sale of Essential Energy, Endeavour Energy, Ausgrid, Transgrid and Snowy Hydro, even Mr Baird’s National Party colleagues are opposed to it, with a unanimous motion against privatisation passed at their state conference last year,” he said.
“The Opposition and minor parties in the Upper House are also opposed to any sale, in line with the position of the vast majority of voters.
“Selling these publicly owned monopolies will spell disaster for NSW, with the likely result being higher electricity prices, reduced services, poor reliability, and the loss of jobs.
“Mr Baird has an obligation to come clean with the people of NSW and confirm once and for all if he plans to push ahead with a sale, benefitting an exclusive few, or will he learn from AWH and fight back against the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups on the NSW Government.”
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