The battle for Essential Energy jobs has ramped up with the deputy premier calling on stakeholder minister Matt Kean to direct the energy provider to halt planned job cuts.
John Barilaro made the announcement in Port Macquarie on Thursday, August 15.
Essential Energy is 100 per cent owned by the state government and has two stakeholder ministers, the energy and environment minister and the treasurer Dominic Perrottet.
The energy provider has plans to cut some 180 jobs - around 34 in Port Macquarie - with a further 500 jobs to go by 2024.
Mr Barilaro said the coalition had made it "absolutely clear that protecting regional and rural jobs was a priority" after the March election.
"I have written to the minister for energy and environment, who has the ministerial authority to give a direction to the state-owned corporation, to halt these job losses in regional NSW," he said.
"I have requested the minister and the minister's agency to direct Essential Energy to not proceed with proposed job cuts and to work with the Electrical Trade Union to find alternative efficiencies and opportunities within the organisation.
I have requested the minister and the minister's agency to direct Essential Energy to not proceed with proposed job cuts and to work with the Electrical Trade Union to find alternative efficiencies and opportunities within the organisation.John Barilaro
"The government made it clear that there will be no job losses in the public sector and that we would protect those jobs," he said.
"That is an agenda of this government. I can't make it any clearer.
"That policy, that view, must apply also to state owned corporate bodies and agencies, including Essential Energy."
An Essential Energy spokesperson said it had briefed employees, government and other stakeholders on projections for the proposed future shape and size of the workforce over the last three years.
"Our preference remains that any necessary workforce reductions are, to the greatest extent possible, achieved through natural attrition and other exits, but clearly this is not always an option," the spokesperson said.
"We are committed to keeping employees, government, unions and all other stakeholders up to date as consultations proceed."
Mr Barilaro called on Essential Energy to "abide by government policy".
He also hit out at Essential Energy CEO John Cleland for a "lack of response" and for "cancelling a meeting last week" to discuss the job losses.
Mr Barilaro said the government had been patient with the energy provider and wanted the decision to halt the job losses to come from Essential Energy.
He also warned Mr Cleland about his future in the CEO role.
"My view is simple. If John Cleland is not prepared to work with the ETU, then he should consider his job," he added.
Despite the latest move, the Electrical Trades Union said it was "disappointed" that Mr Barilaro had "failed to make any headway in protecting regional jobs".
The ETU expected firmer action, said secretary Justin Page.
The Nationals failing to enforce government policy and protect Essential Energy jobs will see the company continue with is devastating plan to slash one in five regional positions by 2024, he said.
We expected the Nationals to be able to deliver on saving Essential Energy jobs. This lack of progress raises questions about the authority of the Nationals in this government.Justin Page
"We expected the Nationals to be able to deliver on saving Essential Energy jobs. This lack of progress raises questions about the authority of the Nationals in this government.
"We welcome John Barilaro talking tough about Essential Energy CEO John Cleland by saying, if anyone's job should go it should be that of the CEO.
"But at the same time, John Barilaro's statement today says that 'this state-owned corporation refuses to comply with government policy' - the Nationals need to toughen up. And the Liberals need to deliver.
"This is simply not acceptable, allowing the Essential Energy CEO to walk over them and defy their policy of protecting jobs. "
Mr Barilaro wanted the energy provider to find the efficiencies and opportunities available to enable the job losses to be stopped.
"It worries me to see as part of these job losses, that at the same time the executive job ratio is increasing while also starting a multi million dollar renovation," he said.
He said the next 48 to 72 hours would be uncertain for employees facing the loss of their jobs.
Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams, who called for an investigation into the job cuts, said she could not stand aside to see jobs continually being lost.
"Cutting hundreds of jobs is not the way to go about this," she said.
The ETU has put some ideas forward to make sure that we can find the efficiencies rather than simply cutting jobs.Leslie Williams
"The ETU has put some ideas forward to make sure that we can find the efficiencies rather than simply cutting jobs.
"I have continued to push for the past six weeks to protect Essential Energy employees from forced redundancies and I will not stop until that is achieved.
"I very much welcome the position that the deputy premier has taken and I thank him for listening to my ongoing concerns in relation to these proposed job cuts.
"The premier and the deputy premier will stick to their guns."
Mr Barilaro also "absolutely" ruled out privatisation during his visit to Port Macquarie.
Opposition leader Jodi McKay was asked for comment.
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