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Essential Energy job cuts could cause problems for local power supply

Friday, 17th July, 2015

By Andrew Robertson

A union has warned that axing Essential Energy jobs in the region may result in longer power outages.

Essential Energy is expected to cut up to 1400 jobs, or a third of its workforce, in the coming months in response to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) slashing its operating budget.

The publicly-owned utility has said a decision on the locations of the job losses is yet to be made but would be “relatively proportionate” across the network.

CFMEU regional vice president Greg Braes said based on that scenario the Far West region, which includes Broken Hill, stood to lose about 30 jobs.

With crews already maintaining a large area and prevented from performing overtime, Mr Braes warned any job cuts may result in longer power blackouts for households and businesses.

“Are the 60 (workers) that are left expected to pick up the slack?” 

Long travel distances involved in maintaining the region needed to be considered as part of any decision around job losses, he said.

Mr Braes also said while the utility could resort to using contractors in the future to help fill any gaps, he doubted they provide the same level of service. 

“The Essential Energy boys are brilliant at getting the power back on quickly.”

Essential Energy has proposed a two phase job reduction program which would see 700 jobs go by the end of the year, with another 700 to follow.

The final figure may depend on the outcome of court action Essential Energy is taking against elements of the AER determination.

Mr Braes said earlier this week that uncertainty surrounding the impending job cuts was also making negotiations for a new three-year enterprise bargaining agreement more difficult.

Talks have only just started but unions believe Essential Energy could seek to freeze wages and also wind back generous, long-standing redundancy provisions contained in the current agreement.

According to the CFMEU, some long-serving workers who applied for voluntary redundancies have not had their applications approved because Essential Energy does not want to pay them out.

Mr Braes said the situation was affecting only a handful of the around 90 Essential Energy staff in the region.

The other main union representing Essential Energy workers in the region, the United Services Union, said yesterday that up to 50 staff in the Far West region could be in the firing line, based on its latest staffing numbers. 

It said that number included both blue and white collar workers.

The USU has said the loss of 1400 jobs across the Essential Energy network was harsh and unsustainable, and would decimate rural and regional communities. 

It also claimed the government had rejected a range of alternative options it had raised that could reduce the need for job losses, including Essential Energy expanding into new infrastructure areas.

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