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One more job on the line, union warns MP

Saturday, 11th March, 2017

By Andrew Robertson

A union representing Essential Energy workers has taken another swipe at Kevin Humphries, suggesting the Member for Barwon might be out of a job after the next election.

United Services Union (USU) organiser Rudi Oppitz said voters would judge whether or not they thought Mr Humphries had done the right thing by his electorate in the wake of Essential Energy’s decision to shed thousands of jobs across its network.

The comments are the latest in a public slanging match between Mr Humphries and the union, which was sparked when Essential Energy revealed last month that it was shutting down its revenue department in Broken Hill with the loss of nine jobs.

The USU said Essential Energy appeared ignorant or uncaring at the impact its job cuts was having on regional NSW and accused National Party MPs of not doing enough to try and save jobs in their own backyard.

But Mr Humphries said the union knew the government “can’t directly control operational matters” and that the union was also aware the redundancies were coming and were linked to more affordable power prices.

He said it was “a shame” the union couldn’t work constructively with Essential Energy and that “all of them should move to South Australia and get a feel for when your state loses control of an affordable and efficient energy delivery system”.

Mr Humphries, who copped criticism from the BIC and others for the remark, said this week that he stood by the comments but that it didn’t mean he lacked empathy for the people who had lost their jobs.

Yesterday, Mr Oppitz said it was all very well for the MP to feel empathy but that wasn’t much help to sacked workers.

“He says he has some sympathy and empathy for these people but has done nothing to generate employment in regional NSW,” he said.

“I don’t see any evidence from the National Party ... doing very much to secure employment and improve the lot for regional NSW and my personal opinion is that will show up when election time rolls around.”

Mr Oppitz also responded to Mr Humphries’ calls for the union to work constructively with Essential Energy, saying the USU had presented a proposal to mitigate job losses but it had been rejected.

“We work with Essential Energy on a regular basis. The difference is (they) make their determinations and unfortunately for the union and the employees, we’re usually operating on the back foot because (they) are not disclosing any detail about what their intentions are and bringing us into the discussion at an earlier stage to try and mitigate what they might be looking at.”

A week after Essential Energy’s latest job losses were revealed, workers voted to accept a new three-year enterprise agreement which includes a modest pay rise but also changes to generous redundancy provisions. 

Fifty-two of the 67 employees covered by the Far West agreement, the majority of who work in Broken Hill, voted to accept the offer which includes a one-off 2.5 per cent pay rise, backdated to July 2016. 

Changes to redundancy will see previously uncapped payouts now capped at the equivalent of 72 weeks’ pay. Existing employees who have already accrued payout figures exceeding 72 weeks’ equivalent pay are exempt.

Local CFMEU chief Greg Braes said yesterday most workers would be in front as a result of the changes to the redundancy provisions, though added it would provide little comfort to someone who was losing their job.

According to Mr Oppitz, that’s still a real possibility for some.

“Essential Energy are rationalising right across regional NSW (and) these jobs that have just recently been lost aren’t the last of them.

“There’ll be continued job losses and people like Mr Humphries have the ability to influence what’s going on despite what he might say.”

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