EnergyAustralia today has taken employer response action as a result of the CFMEU’s escalation of damaging industrial action – informing the union it will run the station’s generators without CFMEU operators indefinitely.
Earlier this week, the CFMEU notified Yallourn Power Station management that from 6am today its operators would take control of how much electricity the power station generated, running generators at their minimum level during the day and their maximum level through the night. The union also planned to conduct a four-hour stop-work on Tuesday.
This union action was designed to inflict significant financial harm on EnergyAustralia during negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement for Yallourn maintenance and operator employees. It came on top of months of CFMEU-led industrial action that has cost EnergyAustralia more than $8 million.
EnergyAustralia Group Executive Manager, Operations and Construction, Michael Hutchinson said that from today (21 June), CFMEU power station operators taking part in the industrial action would no longer be required to operate the power station.
“We intend to utilise other qualified employees from within EnergyAustralia to safely run the power station,” Mr Hutchinson.
“This morning we notified the unions that the 75 CFMEU operators were not required. Subsequently all three units operating at the Yallourn Power Station tripped, apparently as a result of a fire. We will be investigating the cause of the fire and the loss of the generating units.
“Yallourn is now not producing electricity and Victorian electricity prices have risen as a result. We are assessing options to safely return generation from Yallourn over coming days.
“This will not affect the supply of electricity to our customers.”
Mr Hutchinson said safety was the number-one priority at the site – in relation to both this morning’s fire and ongoing operation of Yallourn.
“We chose to take employer response action, because we cannot have the CFMEU using its 75 operators to hold our whole operation to ransom,” he said.
The CFMEU’s intended industrial action – to control the output at Yallourn – would have had significant financial consequences for EnergyAustralia.
“This has been a tough decision, but we wouldn’t have been forced to respond this way if the CFMEU had not chosen to escalate their industrial action,” he said.
Conciliation talks, sought by EnergyAustralia, reached an impasse on Wednesday.
The CFMEU’s demands have included:
- Management’s business decisions either agreed with unions or determined by Fair Work Australia;
- Increased leave entitlements from 215 hours to 324 hours for shift workers;
- Re-opening the defined benefits superannuation scheme for all employees;
- Minimum and fixed manning for operations;
- Annualised salaries;
- Annual pay increases of more than 6% backdated to January; and
- Staff currently not covered by the agreement to be forced to be covered.
Mr Hutchinson said the CFMEU’s demand to take control of business decisions under a new EBA was unreasonable.
“These clauses have not been in an EBA since 2001. Their reintroduction would require the business to gain agreement from the unions or a third party to determine before any changes can be introduced,” he said.
“We will not hand over the keys of Yallourn to the CFMEU. These demands would make it very difficult for EnergyAustralia to respond to future challenges and remain competitive.
“The agreement we have had in place for four years has provided both us and workers with a stable industrial relations environment.”
Mr Hutchinson said the offer put to the CFMEU and other unions earlier this year was to roll over the current agreement which had provided a stable industrial relations environment for the past four years.
“We agreed to a number of areas of compromise and provided for a pay increase substantially higher than wage growth across the economy. Employees were not asked to do anything more than they do now,” he said.
“Our business is already dealing with a number of challenges: reduced demand, intense retail competition and carbon legislation. We are focused on costs and this has resulted in redundancies across the EnergyAustralia business.
“At the same time, energy customers have faced significant electricity price rises in recent years. Wage rises in the Latrobe Valley must be in line with wage inflation if the industry is to control these costs.
“And we also need an agreement that means that we can continue to support all of the 500 jobs we have on site. This is about more than the 75 Operator jobs.”