Costly dis­pute

Benalla Ensign - - Front Page - By Si­mon Rup­pert

New home builds in Be­nalla are be­ing brought to a halt as Aus­Net and the Elec­tri­cal Trades Union of Aus­tralia (ETU) are locked in a dis­pute over job se­cu­rity, lo­cal ap­pren­tice­ships and fault-re­lated fires.

Nilesh Singh ap­proached The En­sign af­ter he was told his new build would not have ac­cess to power and his only op­tion to com­plete the prop­erty was to hire an elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tor at a cost of more than $250 per day.

‘‘I do not know how this has come about, I have been told there is a stand off be­tween Aus­net and the ETU, which only im­pacts the Aus­net area, which is from Wodonga to Be­nalla, maybe Mans­field,’’ Mr Singh said.

‘‘Here in Be­nalla we def­i­nitely fall into the Aus­net area.

‘‘They won’t con­nect my prop­erty and I can­not get an­other com­pany as it will be out of their re­gion.

‘‘I have a meet­ing with my builder to­mor­row and they’ll let me know if, af­ter the slab is poured, they will be able to con­tinue con­struc­tion.

‘‘I will then have to de­cide if the build will be sus­pended un­til a time power is avail­able.

‘‘To con­tinue I have been given a price of $250 a day for a gen­er­a­tor.’’

This raises a host of ex­tra con­cerns for Mr Singh as he has not bud­geted for an ex­tra $250 per day and, on top of the price, some tradies have told him they won’t plug their tools into a gen­er­a­tor as they might be dam­aged.

‘‘I know there are peo­ple in the area that are build­ing their house and don’t have power and the tradies won’t come to the site as the equip­ment is blow­ing from the gen­er­a­tors,’’ he said.

‘‘Even in the event the house is com­pleted there is no guar­an­tee when there will be power.’’

‘‘At the mo­ment I am rent­ing, so I will be left with a mort­gage and the rent to pay on top,’’ Mr Singh said.

‘‘I’ve got my mum and dad who would like to come over, but my mum has a pace­maker and I can’t have her in a house with no elec­tric­ity.’’

‘‘Nor­mal peo­ple can’t af­ford $250 a day for a gen­er­a­tor,’’ Mr Singh said.

‘‘A build­ing could take up to five months to build, so I might need an­other loan to pay for the gen­er­a­tor let alone the mort­gage.’’

Mr Singh said he had looked at the op­tion of go­ing off-grid, but found that to be too ex­pen­sive, and with no way of find­ing out when the con­nec­tion would fi­nally be made he was run­ning out of op­tions.

ETU Vic­to­ria state sec­re­tary Troy Gray said they were sorry to hear of the in­con­ve­nience faced by Aus­Net cus­tomers, but placed the blame squarely with the en­ergy com­pany.

‘‘Our mem­bers have had no choice but to take in­dus­trial ac­tion af­ter a year of Aus­Net’s ab­so­lute re­fusal to com­mit to se­cure jobs and lo­cal ap­pren­tice­ships in our com­mu­ni­ties,’’ Mr Gray said.

‘‘Our mem­bers work around the clock in some of the worst weather to keep the lights on — but Aus­Net is de­ter­mined to make their jobs in­se­cure and put prof­its ahead of safety.

‘‘The poor at­ti­tude cus­tomers ex­pe­ri­ence from Aus­Net is what our mem­bers have to put up with ev­ery day.

‘‘Aus­Net cuts cor­ners and spends less on main­te­nance than cus­tomers pay for.

‘‘They con­tinue to have the high­est rate of fault-re­lated fire starts in Vic­to­ria.’’

Mr Gray said there were ex­emp­tions and all Aus­Net cus­tomers with le­git­i­mate spe­cial needs or cir­cum­stances would be ex­empt from the in­dus­trial ac­tion and would be placed on sup­ply.

‘‘The process for this is that Aus­Net man­age­ment need to re­quest ex­emp­tions through the rel­e­vant ETU of­fi­cial, on their cus­tomers’ be­half,’’ Mr Gray said.

‘‘To date, this has not hap­pened.

‘‘The ETU is un­able to fa­cil­i­tate con­nec­tion ex­emp­tions for cus- tomers who Aus­Net do not make us aware of.’’

How­ever, Aus­Net said the in­for­ma­tion the ETU was pro­vid­ing was not com­pletely ac­cu­rate.

One ex­am­ple it gave re­garded ap­pren­tice­ships.

It said it was com­mit­ted to skilling for the fu­ture and high­lighted an in­take of 10 new ap­pren­tices and trainees in re­gional Vic­to­ria in Jan­u­ary.

It con­firmed its abil­ity to make new con­nec­tions had been af­fected by the in­dus­trial ac­tion be­ing taken by the ETU.

It also con­firmed it had asked the ETU to lift the bans and made an ap­pli­ca­tion to the Fair Work Com­mis­sion to have them lifted.

That mat­ter has been listed be­fore the Fair Work Com­mis­sion for this Thurs­day.

Based on the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the ETU and Aus­Net it is up to cus­tomers to ex­plain to Aus­Net why they need the sup­ply con­nected.

They will then re­quire Aus­net to take the nec­es­sary steps to pass the in­for­ma­tion to the ETU mem­bers to progress the is­sue.

If that cus­tomer is then deemed to be el­i­gi­ble for ex­emp­tion from the in­dus­trial ac­tion a con­nec­tion can sub­se­quently be made.

Aus­Net has asked any­one in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to Mr Singh who be­lieves they should be ex­empt to email Cus­tomer­con­nec­tions@aus­net­ser­ with their in­for­ma­tion.

Build­ing stops: New builds across Be­nalla have ground to a halt in the wake of an in­dus­trial dis­pute be­tween Aus­Net and the Elec­tri­cal Trades Union.

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