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Power jobs shock

Friday, 1st May, 2015

Workers at Essential Energy’s local depot fear for the future of their jobs following a ruling to rein in electricity costs to the customer. PICTURE: Darrin Manuel Workers at Essential Energy’s local depot fear for the future of their jobs following a ruling to rein in electricity costs to the customer. PICTURE: Darrin Manuel

By Erica Visser

A cut in power bills is expected to come at a heavy price, with local Essential Energy jobs on the line.

The independent Australian Energy Regulator (AER) yesterday ruled that the state’s electricity retailers must cut the amount they charge customers.

For local households this would mean an average saving of $313 each year on power bills.

But Networks NSW, which comprises three state-owned electricity companies including Essential Energy, yesterday warned the decision would result in the loss of at least 2,500 jobs statewide.

Local union boss Greg Braes said there was no reason to think the Far West would be spared from the job cuts. 

Mr Braes said yesterday that the 60 Essential Energy employees he represented had been prepared for the dire news given the long negotiations between the AER and Networks NSW.

“We knew it was coming, everyone knew it was going down this line,” said the CFMEU district vice-president.

“When you start talking about these numbers, it’s big...I couldn’t see why there wouldn’t be job losses in Broken Hill or the Far West.” 

Mr Braes said the loss of local line workers would affect the city in more ways than one.

“You might get cheap power bills but when something goes wrong, who’s going to go out there and fix it?

“If you’re going to cut the workforce substantially in these far west areas and something happens, say there’s a storm and blows line down, what happens then?

“What concerns me is instead of having local people here they could then contract work out and get people from the east to come and do it. The level of services will inevitably drop.”

There were also concerns that the NSW government could not afford to pay out thousands of redundancies.

The AER had rejected both requests from Networks NSW to help fund the massive cost of payouts to workers as well as a request for a transition period to rein in charges.

“It’s bad enough that our members will lose their jobs, but when you start talking about not being able to fund redundancies, that’s a bigger worry,” Mr Braes said. 

“I don’t know if they expect people to walk away and not get any entitlements.”

Much like Essential Energy employees, Mr Braes would anxiously await further information regarding the cuts.

“My message would be to our members to just do your job, do it safely and do it correctly. It’s worrying times but don’t let your standards drop until we find out what’s happening.”

The basis for the AER decision was that power demand was steady, meaning there was no strain on the existing network or need to fund substantial upgrades.

But Greens NSW MP John Kaye warned it would force Networks NSW to work within an “unrealistically tight” budget, resulting in the shedding experienced technical staff to apprentices.

“In the short term, reliability and service quality will suffer. In the longer term, the state will be badly left behind in the global move to smart grids, local renewable energy trading and household energy storage,” Mr Kaye said.

“NSW can look forward to longer interruptions to electricity supply. Severe weather events like the recent East Coast Low could see a depleted workforce struggling for weeks to bring the state’s grid back into operation.”

The NSW Government was also ‘disappointed” by the decision, which could jeopardise its plans to privatise half of the state’s poles and wires.

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