MEDIA RELEASE: Tuesday 3 December, 2019

The Australian Energy Regulator’s quiet release of a report boasting about employing fewer staff at electricity distributors is poor taste at a time when 1,700 homes in Sydney’s north have been without power for nearly a week.

The Electrical Trades Union said misguided cost cutting — spurred on by the regulator — was responsible for network unreliability and the delayed resumption of power. 

NSW’s distribution workforce is now 40 per cent smaller than it was five years ago, due to mass layoffs at Ausgrid, Endeavour and Essential Energy. Ausgrid alone has shed more than 2,000 positions.   

The staff cuts are driven by the Australian Energy Regulator, which dictates individual distributors’ funding and profit allocations in five-year blocks. This is often based on flawed projections which pressure distributors to lower costs through cuts to staff and maintenance.

When the short but destructive storm struck Sydney last Tuesday afternoon NSW power crews were already stretched thin, with many sent to fix damage caused by bushfires in Northern NSW.

“The regulator can’t control the weather, but they control very directly the availability of frontline response workers. It is serious bad taste to release a report boasting of cuts to the energy workforce when thousands of people are still without power,” said Allen Hicks, National Secretary of the ETU.

“In NSW over the last 5 years workforces at Ausgrid, Endeavour and Essential Energy have been gutted. Ausgrid is struggling to get its network back online for a simple reason: it has slashed thousands of jobs.

“If you’re laying off frontline workers to lower the bottom line, who do you expect to fix the poles and wires when a storm hits?”

“As extreme weather becomes more frequent and intense, we need to invest in resources and expertise to get energy back on. Instead, the regulator’s forcing distribution companies to slash their costs, which means fewer response crews, less system maintenance and cost-cutting on even the materials used across power networks.”

South Australia’s sole electricity distributor, SA Power Networks, called the regulator out last week for blocking a proposed program of network improvements. 

“The problem is clear and it is nation-wide,” Mr Hicks said. “Our energy regulator is broken, and federal policy is non-existent. The corporatization and privatization of energy assets has brought nothing but a cost-cutting race to the bottom, leaving the public with higher prices and inferior service.”

Media enquiries: ETU National Communications Coordinator – Zoe Power

0419 499 886, zoep@etuaustralia.org.au