Essential Energy has been granted permission by the Fair Work Commission full bench to slash a minimum of 600 regional jobs across New South Wales.
The NSW Government-owned electricity distributor is expected to commence forced redundancies within weeks, with the decision removing any restriction of job cuts from July 1, 2018.
This means from this date an unlimited number of highly skilled power workers from rural and regional communities across the state could lose their jobs.
The decision also permits Essential Energy to make up to 600 staff forcibly redundant by June 30, 2018, and an unlimited number of additional workers can leave the company during the same period if they accept voluntary redundancies.
Essential Energy management intends to use outsourcing to carry out further cuts, with the company’s eventual target seeing in one in every two jobs go, allowing the size of their workforce to be halved to 1600 employees by the 2019 financial year.
The FWC rejected a submission from power unions that no redundancies occur before the Christmas New Year period, allowing Essential Energy to move on redundancies within weeks.
The Commission made the decision despite admitting that its ruling could be expected to have a substantial impact on workers and regional communities.
“Employees located in country towns will find it difficult to obtain alternative work, either of a comparable standard or at all, in their current locations… Job opportunities are generally limited, and jobs involving the specialist skills of electrical tradespersons formerly employed by Essential Energy are virtually non-existent,” the FWC said in the written determination.
“It is likely that many redundant employees will have to relocate themselves and their families in order to obtain alternative employment.
“This will necessarily have direct personal effects on employees and their family members in having to change their house, community and school. It may also have effects on smaller towns in terms of the loss of income able to be spent locally and a possible diminution in community involvement.”
The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which represents the majority of Essential Energy workers, slammed the decision and urged the NSW Government to intervene.
ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said his union had made multiple attempts to contact new National Party leader John Barilaro, but received no response.
“This is the time for the National Party to finally stand up for regional NSW and to demand an end to the wholesale axing of quality jobs by publicly-owned organisations across the state,” he said.
“Today’s decision means that, within the next two years, up to 1600 highly-skilled power workers who live and work in regional NSW could be without a job.
“The economic and social impact of such huge job cuts — which will tear hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economies of rural communities — will be untold human suffering in the communities the National Party claims to represent.”
USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said unions were also seeking an assistance package from the NSW Government to provide help for any Essential Energy workers that lose their jobs, including with retraining, small business advice, and recognition of skills and training.