Craig Giddens, of the ETU, leads a group of protesters outside Robert Schwarten’s office.
Craig Giddens, of the ETU, leads a group of protesters outside Robert Schwarten’s office. Allan Reinikka Rokaprotest

Protests over ‘unsafe' Ergon moves

ABOUT a dozen Electrical Trades Union members protested against Ergon Energy's proposed "unsafe" workplace practices outside Member for Rockhampton Robert Schwarten's office yesterday.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Peter Simpson said members were also protesting at the lack of progress in negotiating new enterprise agreements.

The union is lobbying for more than the current offer of 2.5%, or 3.5% if workers agree to certain conditions.

It provided figures it said showed the pay of Ergon's chief executive Ian McLeod rose 9.3% last year to a total of $708,000 and the company's operations general manager Peter Billing's pay lifted 48.86% to $354,000.

The union says Queensland Treasury is forcing the electricity corporations to cut costs which could compromise safety.

Late last week Ergon made a proposal that employees work alone on power poles and live wires without an assistant trained in CPR and rescue techniques, Mr Simpson said.

He is also unhappy at proposals that include allowing the electricity corporations to use external contractors whenever they like, and workers being forced to complete tasks alone instead of accompanied.

Jason Conway was among the dozen protesters in Rockhampton.

He called on Labor's candidate for Rockhampton Bill Byrne to stand up for workers, particularly in the wake of rising corporate salaries.

Mr Billing rejected suggestions Ergon was seeking to adopt unsafe work practices.

He said union suggestions that Ergon Energy was proposing employees work alone on power poles and on live wires at height without an assistant were untrue

"Such practices would be unsafe and illegal," Mr Billing said.

"Ergon Energy has proposed increased adoption of safe and suitable single person tasks. These may include switching activities, line patrols, routine inspections, and connection and disconnection of underground pillar boxes. It will not include work at heights or on live power lines," he said.

Mr Billing said the union claims were being made in the context of negotiating a new enterprise agreement.

"Ergon Energy has proposed resource optimisation initiatives which include increased single person tasks and continued use of contractors. Ergon Energy has committed to retain a no forced redundancy clause ensuring job security for employees.

"Ergon Energy will be working to finalise an agreement when talks continue on December 23."

Meanwhile, Mr Byrne, a former union representative with the Defence Department, said he was pro unions and collective bargaining. He was also "very much against the rich getting richer" and thought the pay scale for some top-level executives in the corporate sector and senior bureaucrats was "outrageous".


Pay battle

The ETU says its frontline workers at Ergon Energy have been offered a 2.5% pay rise, or 3.5% if they agree to certain conditions.

Meanwhile the CEO Ian McLeod's total pay has risen from $648,000 in 2009 to $708,000 in 2010 and operations GM Peter Billing's wage went up 48.86% to $354,000 in 2010.

Source: ETU