Merger puts power workers' jobs at risk
THE Electrical Trades Union has accused the State Government of putting Bundaberg electricity workers' jobs at risk with an announcement that it plans to merge the state-owned Ergon Energy and Energex power utilities.
The government says the merger would help bring down network costs, and reduce power prices for Queenslanders.
But the union says it has grave concerns for the future of dozens of small depots across the state, saying Gin Gin, Childers, Biggenden, Gayndah, Mundubbera and Miriam Vale could potentially be on the chopping block with only Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Maryborough and possibly Kingaroy remaining to service the entire Wide Bay region.
The government's announcement of the merger came amid public pressure to tackle soaring electricity prices.
Just weeks ago, it was revealed by the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) that householders could expect a power price hike of 22.6% from July 1.
Irrigators have been given some relief, with the government deciding to cap their power price hikes at 10% this year instead of the 20% recommended by the QCA.
But ETU State Secretary Peter Simpson said the media announcement from Energy Minister Mark McArdle on Sunday and the "secretive" release of the government's response to an Independent Review Panel (IRP) report, which outlined a range of recommendations to address electricity network costs, was a "disgusting way to start so-called consultation".
"McArdle went to the media before discussing his plans with the industry including with employees and their union," Mr Simpson said.
"It does not bode well for developing trust and having a mature debate about these issues."
Mr Simpson said details of the plan left the ETU fearful for around 30 depots in regional and remote areas.
"Recommendation 23 of the IRP Report essentially calls for the closure of depots with less than 15 staff," he said.
"This recommendation has been accepted by the government without consultation; obviously we will be fighting for every job in all of these communities."
A spokesperson for Mr McArdle's office confirmed the state government had in principal accepted recommendation 23.
The ETU has also raised concerns that the IRP's proposal Number 29, regarding the privatisation of isolated networks, is the government setting the scene for privatisation and de-regulation of electricity assets.
A spokesperson for Mr McArdle's office said the government supported recommendation 29 of the IRP report in principle, but any decision to be made would first require consultation between Ergon Energy and the parties to its Union Collective Agreement about the likely effect on employees.
"The government will need to consider the outcomes of the consultation before making a final decision," the spokesperson said.