Union workers with Ausgrid threaten local strikes from December in fight for pay deal and career progression

Picture: Darren Pateman
Picture: Darren Pateman

UNION workers at the electricity distributor company that owns and operates electricity poles and wires that deliver power to homes and businesses across Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast have voted to take part in industrial actions from next month.

The Ausgrid workers have threatened the actions if an agreement covering wage increases and career progression opportunities cannot be reached.

Those actions could include work stoppages and bans.

Ausgrid is the largest electricity distributor in NSW.

It is jointly owned by the state government, Australian Super, and IFM Investors.

The company owns and operates the electricity poles and wires that service more than a million homes and businesses across Sydney, the Central Coast and Hunter.

Union employees say they have not received a pay rise since 2014 and have also had to endure surging workload demands as almost 2000 jobs have been slashed during the same period.

The protected action ballot, conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission, asked more than 2800 members of the Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, Community and Public Sector Union, and Professionals Australia whether they supported taking part in a range of actions.

The AEC found overwhelmingly support for all the proposed actions, with:

● 93.5 per cent voting in support of taking part in work stoppages of up to 8 hours;

● 93.3 per cent agreeing to impose up to 30 different work bans, including refusing to do overtime, callouts, refuel vehicles, attend team briefings, or work on the light rail network; and

● 94 per cent willing to change how they perform their work, including refusing to process deliveries from suppliers or process payments to the company.

This outcome of the vote allows union members at Ausgrid to lawfully commence industrial action within the next month, with delegates of the combined unions to meet on January 31 to determining the timing and format of any stoppages.

Electrical Trades Union organiser Mark Buttigieg said workers had been left with no choice but to consider industrial action.

“Our members have endured four years of wage freezes, with no pay increase since 2014,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“During this same time, Ausgrid executives awarded themselves pay increases averaging 5.3 per cent a year, while they also enjoyed average bonuses of more than $50,000 each in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

“Our members work day and night to keep the power on for consumers, so the last thing they want to do is impact the public, but the repeated failure by management to resolve these issues has created a situation where industrial action is the only option left.”

A spokesperson for Ausgrid told Fairfax Media the company was disappointed at the proposed industrial action and believed the two sides had “achieved in-principle agreement on virtually all of our proposal”.

Mr Buttigieg said that was misleading, because the two items still outstanding were the two most important items in the proposed enterprise agreement: the percentage pay increases and career progression.

The unions were asking for 3 per cent a year for the three years of the agreement, while Ausgrid said it was offering 2.5 per cent a year for the first two years and 2 per cent in the third, plus a $1000 payment.

United Services Union energy manager Peter Campise said workers were also concerned by management’s push for a new policy that would severely impact on future career progression.

“Not content to freeze wages for four years, Ausgrid are trying to push through a scheme that would result in new employees receiving lower rates of pay, while at the same time making it much harder for existing staff to receive promotions into more senior roles,” Mr Campise said.

“Our members are simply asking for a fair deal, with a modest pay rise of 3 per cent a year and policies in place that allow people to grow their skills and make their way into more rewarding roles over time.

“Ausgrid workers just want their fair share, particularly as they’ve delivered huge productivity increases in recent years of between 43 and 62 per cent, while the loss of 1987 jobs in recent years has forced much greater workloads onto those who remain.”