Union to let higher energy prices through if it saves jobs
A MAJOR union has backed a push for higher power prices and warned state-owned electricity networks cannot sack its members to cut costs for consumers.
Electrical Trades Union secretary Peter Simpson (pictured) yesterday threatened legal and strike action against Ergon Energy if it tried to circumvent a new workplace agreement that outlawed forced redundancies.
It was revealed yesterday up to 800 jobs at Ergon, about one in five of its workforce, could be slashed under a draft determination by the Australian Energy Regulator.
The independent umpire of monopoly power distributors found the regional Queensland network was highly inefficient and ruled the company’s operating expenditure must be reduced radically.
A final decision is expected in late October, however, Ergon has joined NSW networks that have lodged legal action over the methodology used by the AER.
Ergon and southeast Queensland’s network Energex want $2.2 billion more than the AER determination.
However a methodology change would affect future prices, which were predicted to grow at or below inflation from next year. Ergon Energy chief Ian McLeod insisted the company was fighting to make the AER’s cuts over a five-year period, rather than accept the AER’s draft ruling for an immediate reduction.
“If we implemented the AER decision as it is now in its draft and without picking up alternative work, such as new meters, it equates to about 800 (jobs),’’ he said.
Mr McLeod said the business was already in the process of downsizing but needed to strike a “balance between safety, reliability and costs”.
Mr Simpson said if anyone was sacked it should be the Ergon boss. “He tried to screw our blokes in the Newman years so, if he’s one of the 800 people, we would be happy,’’ he said. Mr Simpson backed Ergon in its fight against the AER but warned if the company lost it would have to sack white-collar workers as the union’s new agreement prevented forced redundancies.
“We would be straight into court number one because the agreement they have signed off on, and they did sign off on it, says they can’t do that,’’ he said. Mr Simpson later added: “We never rule out industrial action.”
Energy Minister Mark Bailey, a former ETU member, backed Ergon in its fight against the AER, saying the company needed a workforce that could respond quickly to the region’s frequent storms.
“There are particular Queensland factors in this that we need to take into account,’’ he said. “That is what is happening.
“But we are very clear about better outcomes for consumers.”