ETU and CEPU members unite across borders to support communities after violent storms

By CEPU SA Organiser Jason Lailey

On 12 November South Australia was hit by a violent and powerful storm. Within 12 hours we experienced 423,000 lightning strikes and winds up to 110 kilometres an hour. Once the storm had passed and left its damage there were 160,000 residences without power across the state.

SA Power Networks called on all available resources to come in and help. The damage was widespread, stretching from the Eyre Peninsula through to the Riverland. After an initial assessment it was clear the issues were too massive for South Australia to deal with alone.

The call went out across the border to our brothers and sisters in New South Wales. ETU NSW members from Essential Energy answered and began their trek across to assist their SA comrades, arriving Monday 14 November.

Truck after truck came in and began preparations to start the rebuild of the Electricity Network. 

The bulk of the damage was in Blackwood and Upper Sturt in the Adelaide Hills.

Trees were down everywhere, poles were on the ground, transformers smashed into footpaths, wires down, wrapped around trees and on top of cars. It was like a cyclone had come through.

The CEPU SA members along with the ETU NSW members got stuck straight into it, working 12 -14 hour days. Slowly but surely through terrible conditions the workers got the power back on for many residents.

But then on Saturday 19 November another storm rolled through. This one affected the Riverland more than anywhere else, and there was major flooding up through the Murray River region.

So, the groups got back into the trucks and went off up the Sturt Highway 230 kilometres to the Riverland. With only 260 powerline workers in SA the task in front of them was enormous. Despite all the obstacles in front of them, the members got stuck in again.

In the Riverland again they saw more destruction – wires down everywhere, poles half submerged in flood waters, trucks getting bogged.

The conditions were very trying, but as always, the proud Union members worked long hours to help restore power to the community.

CEPU SA State Councillor Nick Barrett worked for eleven days straight, for up to 14 hours each day. One section of fallen poles and damaged wires stretched on for kilometres in the Adelaide Hills. 57 line workers were needed to repair power to this area, with half of those coming from NSW.

“In my 15 years as a liney this is the most extensive damage I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Fallen trees destroyed many wires but ageing and weak assets have also played a big part in the storm damage.

“It’s no secret that the electricity grid poles and wires in South Australia have been neglected as part of a larger funding issue with the National Electricity Market that rewards companies for underspending on operations and maintenance,” said CEPU SA State Secretary John Adley.

And while the community was very thankful to the brave workers who worked so hard to restore their power, the crew has been operating on a skeleton staff due to staff cuts by SA Power Networks over the years.

“Without enough line workers, the community will wait longer and longer for their power to be restored after increasingly common major weather events,” said John.

Around 50 ETU members from NSW employed by Essential Energy formed the crew that helped rebuild the South Australian electricity network.

ETU delegate Simon Davies and his Mudgee crew were in the Adelaide Hills with Nick.

“It was great to be able to help local communities. They were very welcoming,” said Simon.

“We worked side-by-side with CEPU South Australia members who are pretty much 100% union across SAPN and the contractors. Excellent to catch up and share the Union spirit.”

These brave members showed that no matter how far away or how difficult the task our mighty CEPU/ETU members will always answer the call!

We would like to thank every member who got in their vehicle and trekked across the border, every member that left the comfort of their homes, every member that left their family and friends behind, to help people in the most difficult of times.

Proud workers, Proud members, Proud Unionists!

Thank you all.

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This article was publised on 29 November 2022.