Essential Energy job cuts: John Barilaro announces halt to regional job cuts

ESSENTIAL Energy employees can breathe a sigh of relief with Minister for Energy Matt Kean announcing he will issue a directive to halt proposed job cuts.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said this is the only option in the best interests of regional NSW.

There were up to 182 positions expected to go across regional NSW in an effort by the organisation to drive down electricity prices and create efficiencies in the business.

At least 34 jobs were slated to go in Port Macquarie, revealed by internal documents obtained through the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

After weeks of demands to Essential Energy to abandon the proposed job cuts, the state-owned corporation won't move forward with the plan, Mr Barilaro said.

The Deputy Premier visited Port Macquarie on August 15 calling for a halt to job cuts and reaffirming the coalition had made it "absolutely clear that protecting regional and rural jobs was a priority" after the March election.

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.

"We worked with stakeholders, we listened to communities, we stayed firm on our position and we've now achieved a major victory for regional NSW," he said.

"From the start, I urged Essential Energy to find further efficiencies without job cuts and that approach has proved successful.

"Regional NSW is the backbone of this state, and as we continue to suffer through the worst drought on record the last thing our communities need are job losses."

Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams.

Essential Energy's interim chair Robyn Clubb and chief executive officer John Cleland met with ministers on August 19.

"They discussed the role of Essential Energy in being an affordable and responsible supplier of electricity in an evolving marketplace and the implications of future job reductions," an Essential Energy spokesperson said.

"Following the meeting, Essential Energy has been directed to place on hold the current workforce reshaping process and consider alternate options for savings, while still delivering operational efficiencies and continuing to lower network charges for its 855,000 customers as required by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).

"Essential Energy will provide information on alternate options for savings to the government when finalised and work with the government to implement its decisions."

Essential Energy will report to the state government on how it can deliver efficiencies and put downward pressure on network charges as required by the (AER).

Member for Port Macquarie, Leslie Williams welcomed the announcement.

"I have had a steady stream of both current and former Essential Energy employees contacting my office who have been very anxious with many in tears over the planned restructuring and I am extremely pleased with Minister Kean's announcement today," Mrs Williams said.

"I strongly urge the Essential Energy CEO and Board to investigate alternative efficiency measures rather than drastically reduce the workforce numbers.

"I understand that they need to identify savings in order to put downward pressure on electricity prices but slashing local jobs in communities like Port Macquarie is not an option particularly when the worst drought on record is having such an impact.

"During the past six weeks I have met with many stakeholders to put forward a strong case on behalf of Essential Energy employees in Port Macquarie and I am pleased today that their voices have been heard loud and clear."

The Energy Minister's announcement today provides certainty for workers who had been facing this first round of job cuts, but our fight is far from over given Essential Energy still has plans on the table to slash another 500 jobs - one in every five regional workers - by 2024.

Ben Lister, ETU

ETU assistant secretary Ben Lister congratulated Mr Kean on the intervention, but also praised the efforts of Deputy Premier John Barilaro and many of his Nationals colleagues who have been fighting to save the jobs.

"Our members could not be happier with the announcement that these job cuts have been halted, and Energy Minister Matt Kean and Deputy Premier John Barilaro deserve genuine praise for their efforts to find a solution that could keep these regional workers employed," Mr Lister said.

"At a time when communities are doing it tough with drought and a slowing economy, news that one of the largest employers in regional NSW was planning to slash 182 jobs was a devastating blow.

"Since 2012, Essential Energy has nearly halved its workforce, with local communities feeling the pain as wages were removed from local economies and families were forced to move away looking for work.

"As a 100 per cent publicly-owned company, Essential Energy has an obligation to act in the best interests of the communities they serve, which means considering the broader impacts of cuts to jobs and services.

"The Energy Minister's announcement today provides certainty for workers who had been facing this first round of job cuts, but our fight is far from over given Essential Energy still has plans on the table to slash another 500 jobs - one in every five regional workers - by 2024.

"We will continue to work with the company, the NSW Government, and local MPs to find alternative options that can deliver cost savings and new revenue streams rather than seeing jobs lost."