MP says 600 electricity job cuts 'unfair, a step too far'
ESSENTIAL Energy will soon shed at least 600 staff from its regional New South Wales workforce in a move Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis labelled unfair and dangerous.
The Fair Work Commission has granted permission for the state-owned electricity distributor to drastically reduce personnel with forced redundancies expected to begin within weeks.
The Electrical Trades Union said the decision would also allow an unlimited number of job cuts from July 2018, with the corporation planning major outsourcing to halve its workforce to 1600 employees by the 2019 financial year.
"I'm concerned about regional jobs, the safety of staff and consumers, and I'm concerned about the security of the supply," Mr Gulaptis said.
"They were always the principal issues I worried about when I put in my submission rejecting the (Australian Energy Regulator's) determination.
"It recommended they get rid of about 1400 staff... half or thereabouts are gone already, a lot through voluntary redundancies or natural attrition."
The FWC rejected a union request to postpone any redundancies until after the Christmas-New Year holiday period, meaning they can begin almost immediately.
Its decision recognised the devastating effect the cut-backs would have on regional communities.
"Employees located in country towns will find it difficult to obtain alternative work, either of a comparable standard or at all, in their current locations," the decision stated.
"Job opportunities are generally limited, and jobs involving the specialist skills of electrical tradespersons formerly employed by Essential Energy are virtually non-existent.
"It is likely that many redundant employees will have to relocate themselves and their families in order to obtain alternative employment.
"This will necessarily have direct personal effects on employees and their family members in having to change their house, community and school.
"It may also have effects on smaller towns in terms of the loss of income able to be spent locally and a possible diminution in community involvement."
ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley called on the National Party to demand state-owned corporations stop the wholesale axing of jobs across regional NSW.
"Today's decision means that, within the next two years, up to 1600 highly skilled power workers who live and work in regional NSW could be without a job.
"The economic and social impact of such huge job cuts - which will tear hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economies of rural communities - will be untold human suffering in the communities the National Party claims to represent.
"This is our challenge for (Deputy Premier) John Barilaro: show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange by-election, stop toeing the Baird Government's line, and demand that this publicly owned company not press ahead with these wholesale job cuts."
Mr Gulaptis was one Nationals member who agreed the job cuts were a step too far.
"It's supposed to be about reducing operating expenditure and bringing down costs," he said.
"If we saw an electricity price drop without a drop in service, everyone would be supporting it.
"However when you have such a hit to jobs, and we know regional jobs are hard to come by, you need to look very closely before you make a decision.
"It's a step too far. I just think it's unfair."
Essential Energy chief executive officer John Cleland said the FWC's workplace determination gave employees clarity after an extended period of uncertainty.
"It will also provide greater flexibility to continue the process of reforming the Essential Energy business in response to changing customer expectations and a rapidly evolving energy sector," he said.
"Members of Essential Energy's executive team are attending 60 locations across NSW this week to provide a strategic and business update, and will take the opportunity to discuss the workplace determination decision in more detail."