CEPU SA Power members defeat multinational company after a 27-month long campaign

In South Australia SA Power workers achieved an incredible win after more than two years fighting for a fair go. After 27 months with 25,000 hours of protected industrial the workers have voted up a union-endorsed enterprise agreement by 91%.

South Australian electricity distribution company SA Power Networks and their contracting business Enerven, both owned by Utilities Management Pty Ltd (UMPL) tried to undermine the employment stability and wage security of their workforce for over two years. 

UMPL tried to force radical change on its workforce, attempting to introduce 20% reduced wages for new workers and attempting to split the enterprise agreement (EA) into two to obtain financial and “flexibility” benefits through the EA negotiation process.  

The workers were resolute in the face of these challenges. The workforce of 2200 voted down four non-union endorsed EA proposals and Union members took protected action for over 12 months in defence of their industry. The regulated work program was pushed back by an estimated $120M and the workers amassed 25,000 strike hours in the process.

Co-ordinated strike activities put immense pressure on UMPL, who were also defending court actions that were taken by the Union to contest the splitting of agreements. The Union won in court, proving that the company was not bargaining in good faith and making sure the agreement was not split. 

Throughout this campaign the workers took action and organised at the ground level with worker engagement and delegate structures growing and strengthening. The Network Operations Centre (High Voltage Control Centre) also took action for an extended period in protection of the industry. 

After 27 months an in-principal agreement was reached and endorsed by our Union, and voted up with a 91% yes vote in September. All of the attacks that were waged on the workers were defended and a single EA covering all workers was agreed.

The new agreement delivers annual 3.5% wage and allowances increases, and importantly comes with full back pay applied to all overtime, leave and allowances since bargaining commenced more than two years ago.

“This win should not be underestimated,” said CEPU SA State Secretary John Adley.

“UMPL employees have defeated a highly resourced multinational corporation through a concerted industrial action campaign and multiple wins by the unions in the Fair Work Commission.

“All those Union members that sacrificed pay and stood up to take industrial action are owed a debt of gratitude by those who will benefit into the future.”

Negotiations for the next agreement kick off in just 12 months. After this campaign, we think the next negotiations will be much more civil, but if not, our members are more than prepared for whatever comes their way. 

Thank you to all of our members for all their effort. This dispute proves once again that collective action of workers can and will defeat multinational corporations. People power works.

Our industry, our Union.

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This article was publised on 28 September 2022.