The Electrical Trades Union has accused Premier Gladys Berejiklian of either deliberately lying to the public or being grossly incompetent after she used a live television interview to falsely claim that electricity distributor Ausgrid had increased its workforce during the past five years.
When challenged on Seven’s Sunrise program about the impact of staffing cuts at Ausgrid on the lengthy blackouts impacting tens of thousands of homes and businesses, Ms Berejiklian claimed that: “There’s actually more full time staff today than there was five years ago in that organisation”.
According to Ausgrid’s own figures, the company had a full time equivalent workforce of 5,713 in the 2012/13 financial year, which was reduced to 5,390 by the 2014 financial year. In the past five years that number has been cut by a third, dropping to 3504 in June 2019.
Ausgrid chief operating officer Trevor Armstrong also admitted the scale of staffing cuts, telling ABC radio that in the order of 5,000 jobs have been lost across the entire NSW electricity network.
ETU secretary Justin Page said that with the NSW Government retaining 49.6 per cent ownership of Ausgrid, and Ms Berejiklian the architect of the company’s partial privatisation, it was incomprehensible that she would be unaware of the massive job cuts undertaken over the past five years.
“For the Premier to stand in front of a camera and make a blatantly false statement about job numbers in an attempt to deflect from the fact that her government’s failings are directly responsible for this major power outage is something out of Trump’s playbook,” Mr Page said.
“At best, she has demonstrated gross incompetence through her ignorance of what is going on at the state’s largest electricity distributor, and at worst she had blatantly and knowingly lied to the people of NSW in a shameless attempt to deflect blame.
“What is more embarrassing is that the Premier was the shareholder Minister for Ausgrid in 2014/2015 and should have been well aware of the job figures. In this Ministerial role she was also the person who ultimately gave the green light to the ongoing reductions to the number of skilled workers.
“The NSW Government still owns nearly half of Ausgrid, they have been intimately involved with the axing of more than 1000 jobs during the past five years, and they are absolutely responsible for the current situation where a shortage of skilled workers is delaying the restoration of power to tens of thousands of people.”
Mr Page said the request from Ausgrid for the Australian Defence Force to assist with cleanup and recovery efforts demonstrated clearly the impact job losses were having on resourcing.
“We used to have an army that assisted with restoring power following storms, floods, fires and natural disasters: it was an army of workers,” he said.
“Thanks to the NSW Government’s privatisation agenda and the failed regulatory system imposed by the Federal Government, we’ve lost that army, with 5000 highly skilled and specialised workers lost from the NSW electricity network in the last decade.
“Calling in the Army rather than having adequate numbers of specialist workers is an unsustainable approach which leaves consumers waiting longer to get the lights back on whenever natural disasters strike.
“Climate change is making extreme weather events more common and intense, but rather than making our electricity network more resilient by investing in specialist workers, we continue to see jobs lost and resources cut.
“It is time for the NSW and Federal Governments to admit that the current regulatory framework for electricity distributors is broken, that the challenges posed by fire and extreme weather are growing, and that we urgently need to rebuild the specialist workforces of these companies to ensure reliable power services for the public.”