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More jobs lost

Saturday, 11th February, 2017

By Andrew Robertson

A union has condemned Essential Energy’s decision to shut its accounts department in Broken Hill with the loss of nine jobs.

United Services Union (USU) organiser Rudi Oppitz said yesterday the energy provider informed local staff on Tuesday that the office was closing and its revenue services shifted to Port Macquarie.

Mr Oppitz said the move by Essential Energy, which would also see two jobs lost at Goulburn and another four at Queanbeyan, followed a review of revenue services last year.

“The whole (Broken Hill) office is being shut,” Mr Oppitz said.

“So you lose 16 regional jobs and gain five at Port Macquarie.”

The cuts are the latest in a string of job losses to hit Broken Hill in the last 18 months as Essential Energy continues to shed thousands of employees across its network to cut costs.

But Mr Oppitz said the company had to explain why it was centralising jobs at a time when technology made working remotely entirely possible and it already had a skilled workforce in Broken Hill. 

“I’ve requested a meeting with Essential Energy to discuss the job losses at Broken Hill.

“We need to understand why Essential Energy is doing what they’re doing and we would like to understand why they feel that the work is not able to be done at Broken Hill.

“Certainly they’re the things we’ll be talking about.”

Despite being a government-owned entity, Essential also didn’t seem to have any regard for the damage its job cuts were having on places like Broken Hill, Mr Oppitz said.

Not only was it ripping incomes out of towns that could ill-afford it, but the loss of so many skilled staff had the potential to undermine Essential Energy’s vast electricity network.   

“They don’t seem to be paying any attention to the impact of job losses in regional NSW.

“I can’t understand why the National Party aren’t jumping up and down.”

Mr Oppitz said while local staff may have anticipated further cuts the announcement on Tuesday to close the office still came as shock.

“There were suggestions mid to late last year that there would be some redundancies (in the accounts department) but they went away,” he said.

The move to consolidate revenue services at the company’s head office in Port Macquarie means a number of staff may be able to relocate but Mr Oppitz suggested many would be reluctant to leave. 

“I don’t know if any of our members are inclined to uproot their families and move to the east coast.”

The union has also criticised the way in which staff were informed of the closure, saying employees were told via a video conference.

Last year the CFMEU slammed Essential Energy after two workers were told over the phone that they no longer had jobs. 

“This is not necessarily too different,” Mr Oppitz said.

“It just appears to me to demonstrate the level of respect, or non-respect, for their employees in regional area.”

Essential Energy said yesterday the employees were notified of the restructure in a “face-to-face meeting” with their immediate supervisor and senior divisional manager.

A spokeswoman said the changes would involve a net reduction of 11 positions with offices in Broken Hill, Goulburn, Queanbeyan and Port Macquarie to be affected. 

She said some positions were being retained and employees whose roles have been scrapped would be given the chance to move “to another location within our distribution area”.

However, outcomes for affected employees would differ depending on the industrial instrument they are covered by.

“While the majority of employees are covered by the Essential Energy Workplace Determination, Broken Hill employees are covered by the Essential Energy Far West Electricity Enterprise Agreement which contains involuntary redundancy provisions,” the spokeswoman said 

“Essential Energy is aware of the impacts that operational changes like these can have on local communities.

“However, these planned changes are necessary as we move to a more cost-efficient business model to deliver best value for customers and maintain downward pressure on network charges for customers.

“A period of consultation has commenced to allow employees affected by this plan to provide feedback or alternative options for achieving the same outcomes while minimising the impact on our workforce. Consultation is expected to conclude by 1 March.”

She said the plans reflected Essential Energy’s “continuing path to improve safety” and minimise network charges to customers while delivering a return to shareholders. 

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