Essential Energy chief executive officer John Cleland has labelled as ‘purely speculation at this stage’, rumours about future workforce reductions and depot closures.
Mr Cleland said the rumours do not help employees.
“On the day the Fair Work Commission’s Workplace Determination was delivered, Essential Energy had 31 redeployees who had remained employed without a substantive role for more than 12 months,” he said.
“The commission’s decision, which was effective immediately, directed that redeployees had the option to leave the business in the next four weeks and receive up to 72 weeks’ payment plus entitlements, or stay on and continue to be paid for the next six months with an option to take a maximum 44-week exit payment at any time.”
Unrelated to the Fair Work Commission’s decision, Essential Energy notified 10 senior contract managers and eight employees under a separate Enterprise Agreement that their roles were redundant as part of ongoing reforms that began in 2012.
“We recognise that organisational change can be challenging, particularly during a workforce reduction,” the CEO said.
“Our priority is always the safety, health and well-being of our employees and we have a range of initiatives and support programs available, including a free, confidential counselling service, ongoing mental health awareness programs and partnerships with BeyondBlue and R U OK? Day.”
Mr Cleland said Essential Energy employs approximately 3100 people across regional and rural NSW and is reforming its business to meet changing customer expectations and an evolving energy sector, while keeping downward pressure on network charges.
The United Services Union says the workers – across 23 locations – will be the first of some 600 employees the company plans to axe by 2018.
The union says the employees made redundant so far include electrical technicians, powerline workers, operations managers, senior customer service staff, meter readers, engineers, administration workers and specialist tradespeople.
USU general secretary Graeme Kelly described the timing of the redundancies as ‘heartless’.
“Essential Energy management (is) treating loyal workers with contempt,” he said.
“How incredibly insensitive and out of touch can management at Essential Energy be if they think that it is acceptable behaviour to ring workers just weeks before Christmas to tell them that — despite years of loyal service — they’ve no longer got a job.
“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 1000 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.
“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.
“This is a company that is 100 per cent owned by the NSW Government, so it seems incomprehensible that this approach is occurring without the oversight and approval of the Liberal National Government.”
Mr Kelly called on regional MPs, particularly National Party MPs who are part of the government, to demand an immediate halt to these forced redundancies until after the Christmas New Year period.
“It seems like common sense that a decent government and a decent employer would wait until after the holiday period to provide this news,” he said.
“The NSW government should also ensure there is a greater level of support put in place for workers who are seeing their lives turned upside down.
“This weekend, 400 Essential Energy workers and supporters marched through Dubbo to demand action to protect regional jobs, but so far all they have received from the National Party is silence.”
The number of confirmed job cuts by regional depot are: Bathurst, 2; Bega, 1; Blayney, 1; Broken Hill, 8; Buronga, 2; Coffs Harbour, 1; Coonamble, 1; Dubbo, 2; Forbes, 1; Grafton, 1; Inverell 1; Mclean, 1; Murwillumbah, 1; Nambucca Heads, 1; Narrabri, 1; Orange, 1; Port Macquarie, 3; Queanbeyan, 1; Sydney, 1; Tamworth, 1; Taree, 2; Tweed Heads, 1; and Wellington, 1.
The United Services Union is holding a series of meetings with Essential Energy workers on the NSW North Coast.
USU organiser Brian Cameron will be meeting with workers based in Grafton, Ballina and Coffs Harbour this week, with those town expected to suffer at least 50 jobs cuts between them.
The union believes that it is not too late for the NSW government, as the owner of Essential Energy, to intervene and halt or reduce the number of job cuts that will impact on regional communities on the NSW North Coast.
“There is no question these job cuts will have a devastating impact, not just on the workers and their families, but on their entire communities,” Mr Cameron said.
“Despite approving management’s planned job cuts, the Fair Work Commission warned that workers who are made redundant in these communities will struggle to find alternate work, with many likely to have to relocate their entire families to find new jobs.
“Local 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.
“These meetings are about providing practical support to the workers who are facing a very uncertain future, as well developing a plan to fight to save as many local jobs as possible.
“It’s not too late for the NSW government to act and either stop these cuts, or reduce their severity.
“All it takes is political will, and in particular the efforts of local National Party MPs to take up this fight with their colleagues in the NSW Liberal National Government.”