Forty percent of GIS jobs will be sent offshore following the privatisation of Ausgrid in 2016. And adding insult to injury, remaining workers have been given orders to travel to India where they will train replacements for their colleagues. Workers, clearly distressed by the directive, have been forbidden by the power industry unions, United Services Union (USU) and Electrical Trades Union (ETU), to undergo any training of contractors.
As a response to the union ban, Ausgrid has taken legal action with the Fair Work Commission, claiming the behaviour constitutes industrial action.
Job protections were put into place before the privatisation to prevent just such a scenario, but ETU secretary Dave McKinley said this was a clear indication that Ausgrid management has no intention of honouring the contract. Under the agreement, workers can’t be retrenched or sacked forcibly. As a work-around, according to McKinley, Ausgrid has simply redeployed their now redundant Australian GIS staff to positions where they have nothing to do in an effort to encourage them to seek a voluntary redundancy. Graeme Kelly, general secretary of USU, called the move by Ausgrid “absolutely outrageous.”
In a statement released by Ausgrid, unions and staff were consulted on the option to outsource 35 out of 77 total GIS positions in early 2016, and the current changes are within the NSW Parliament’s legislation.
GIS is responsible for developing and maintaining detailed mapping information covering every element of the electricity network that provides power to more than a million homes and businesses in Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter and Central Coast.
Mr Kelly said there were also serious security concerns about the outsourcing plans. “The Federal Government blocked the sale of Ausgrid to buyers from China and Hong Kong because of the concerns of security agencies regarding foreign control of critical electricity infrastructure, yet we now have the Australian buyers simply handing this same sensitive information over to a foreign multinational,” he said.
“If companies from China or Hong Kong having access to this infrastructure was a security risk, surely it should be concerning that an Indian multinational will be controlling critical network information.”
Mr McKinley said the unions would be vigorously defending the legal action.
“Not only do we believe workers should have the right to follow their conscience and not train a workforce of overseas contractors to take the jobs of colleagues, we also dispute the company’s claim that this amounts to industrial action,” he said.
“In a nation built on mateship, sticking up for your co-workers should be something that is praised, not dragged through the courts and punished.”