THIRTY-SIX Essential Energy workers have been sacked in regional NSW and given information packs suggesting they call Lifeline, union officials said on Wednesday.
"Workers at this publicly-owned company are still in shock that management was granted approval last month to axe 600 jobs by 2018, and up to 1,000 more in 2019, but that emotion is turning to anger as they see the heartless way colleagues are being treated when they are notified of their termination," said United Services Union General Secretary Graeme Kelly.
"The information pack that is sent to workers after they get the phone call helpfully suggests they call Lifeline, which appears to be an admission the company knows just how devastating this kind of news is, particularly to people living in regional areas with limited alternate employment."
USU organiser Brian Cameron was due to meet Essential Energy workers in Ballina on Thursday as part of a regional series of meetings in response to the Fair Work Commission's approval of the job cuts.
"The members are wondering what happened when The Nationals promised that would be no sackings," said Mr Cameron after meeting workers in Grafton.
"A lot of members were out evidently fixing the aftermath of this week's storm but the guys that were there were quite open about the fact that they're worried about their jobs.
"I have heard up to 11 senior managers on contract have been made redundant in the past week, I know for sure two of them have.
"One was a [union] member who was given one hours' notice and the union has asked for details.
"I believe Essential Energy could be using contract labour hire to perform duties otherwise performed by workers."
"We've heard nothing from the National Party," said Mr Kelly.
"Instead we've had [leader] John Barilaro in Orange last week indicating that the National Party is supporting job cuts in the name of lower electricity prices for consumers.
"This issue is white hot in country and regional NSW where 600 families are now contemplating whether mum or dad will get the call in time for Christmas.
"These job cuts will be so devastating, families will have to pack up and move."
Mr Kelly said the union would push for a parliamentary inquiry into the sackings as soon as possible.
"We've spoken to a number of parties, it seems like it won't be a problem."
Four hundred people rallied against the job cuts in Dubbo, Mr Kelly said, supported by NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley, The Shooters and Fishers Party and The Greens.
Another union spokesman said the Electrical Trades Union was backed by Fred Niles and the Christian Democrats on Essential Energy job cuts.
"The jobs that you see lost in the industry will be replaced by contract labour," said Mr Kelly.
"One could be cynical and say that the downsizing of the workforce is tantamount to preparing the rest of the business for sale.
"If that is the outcome the government wants then a 2019 change of government can't come quickly enough."
"I've done my bit": Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis
But Nationals Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said he had previously tried to discuss Australian Energy Regulator decisions regarding Essential Energy finances with unions only to have representatives cancel meetings twice.
"I put in a submission to the AER personally objecting to the determination that it made for Essential Energy to cut their costs 18 months ago.
"The AER ignored those submissions and made their own decisions and Labor agreed.
"I've done my bit. Labor are the ones that need to be quizzed."
Mr Gulaptis said Essential Energy workers had generous entitlements under union-negotiated salaries, including superannuation payments of between 15 - 25% when he and other MPs received 9%.
"Is there scope for the unions to look at their employment contracts?" he asked.
Mr Gulaptis ruled out future discussions with unions as "a waste of time".
"I think it's futile," he said, "no side is prepared to budge."
He said a proposed parliamentary inquiry would only make sense under "dramatic circumstances" such as major loss of service to regional areas.
"If you can't change the scope of the brief what's the point of a parliamentary inquiry?
"Essential Energy is a state owned corporation which means it has an independent board of directors and the board determines the way that the corporation operates, including its budget."
Mr Gulaptis said the Essential Energy board was answerable to the NSW treasurer but he had not sought discussions with the treasurer on board decisions.
"I can't comment on operational matters.
"It's awful timing but we're too far down the track if people are getting their redundancy notices."
Mr Gulaptis said he had heard anecdotal information about Essential Energy outsourcing jobs previously performed by regional workers but thought Essential Energy workers would be able to apply.
"Clearly if something has to be outsourced one would imagine that those workers would be able to apply but do you need a workforce 365 days a year or do you only need a workforce 200 days a year?
"I think voters are concerned about the cost of supply, it's been going up and up and up."
Regional areas worse off: unions
"They'll be bringing in contract labour on a needs basis and giving a poor service, it happened in Victoria in the La Trobe valley," said Mr Kelly.
"The money won't stay in the town, jobs will be outsourced to big companies from outside rural communities that may base themselves in a metro area and just drive out during blackouts."
"Communities will not only feel the economic loss caused by families moving away, they'll be left to deal with reduced maintenance of the electricity network, slower restoration of power after major storms or bushfires, and lower service standards, as substantially fewer specialist workers remain behind to provide these essential services," said Mr Cameron.
"It's not too late for the NSW Government to act and either stop these cuts, or reduce their severity."
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