NSW power unions warn of hit to jobs, service

Issue 

Unions have warned that electricity consumers will be hit by worse services, reduced maintenance and slower emergency response times, after a decision by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) in late April. The AER decision, which takes effect from July 1, sets revenues that the publicly owned NSW network companies Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, TransGrid and Essential Energy can charge private power retailers.

The final determination imposes cuts to revenues of 33% for Ausgrid, 31% for regional provider Essential Energy, 28% for Endeavour Energy, 25% for TransGrid and 32% for ACT electricity network operator ActewAGL.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and United Services Union (USU), which represent workers in the electricity network companies, highlighted that neither the AER, nor the NSW government, had any legal power to force private energy retailers to pass price reductions on to consumers, after retail electricity pricing was deregulated by the Coalition government in July last year.

ETU state secretary Steve Butler said on April 30 that there was no doubt the response to the recent major storm event in NSW, which cut power to a quarter of a million homes, would have been substantially slower if these cuts had already been in place.

"The federal government's energy regulator has condemned the people of NSW to more blackouts, slower reconnection times, reduced maintenance and a loss of specialist skills, all without guaranteeing consumers will see one cent of savings on their bills," Butler said.

USU energy manager Scott McNamara said that while the cuts could result in up to 4000 job cuts across NSW, unions were seeking alternative savings measures.

"There are many alternatives to mass sackings,” McNamara said. “And we will not allow management to use the AER determination as an excuse to get rid of thousands of workers, ahead of the NSW government's planned privatisation.”

Tracy Howe, CEO of the NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS), welcomed any possible reduction in power prices, but warned that electricity bills remained a severe problem for low-income families.

She wrote in the April 27 Sydney Morning Herald: "NCOSS has therefore outlined a clear case for percentage-based rebates — that is, linking the value of low-income rebates, which are currently set at a flat and fixed amount, to the amount of each individual household's bill.

"This would mean those who need to use more energy — such as large families or those needing life-supporting medical machinery — would be provided with more support. A percentage-based scheme would also ensure people living in rural NSW — who face the highest bills in the state — get the support they need."

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