Power shock: Privatisation fears after no new apprentices taken on this year

BEGINNING OF THE END: Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler, left, and Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake have dire predictions for Tamworth regarding electricity apprenticeships and the electricity sell-off. Photo: Gareth Gardner 130814GGF02

BEGINNING OF THE END: Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler, left, and Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake have dire predictions for Tamworth regarding electricity apprenticeships and the electricity sell-off. Photo: Gareth Gardner 130814GGF02

UNION leaders have claimed a decision by Essential Energy not to employ any new apprentices this year is a precursor to the full privatisation of the state’s electricity network.

It comes amid other suggestions from industry observers that the Nationals deal to quarantine the regional assets won’t last. The new forecasts emerged yesterday when union leaders revealed Essential Energy had gone from employing 129 apprentices a year four years ago to none this year.

The Electrical Trades Union claims the businesses are being “fattened up” to increase the sale price for an inevitable sell-off.

“We believe there has been a directive given to the publicly-owned electricity businesses to halt their training programs for new staff in an attempt to fatten up their profitability ahead of Mike Baird’s sell-off,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“This is the first time in the memory of anyone working in the industry that not one new apprentice will walk through Essential Energy’s door at the start of the year.”

A Networks NSW spokesperson said that Essential Energy, along with Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy, would recruit next year, but the number depended on the Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) decision on their five-year funding proposals.

“Each business needs to employ and train the right number of staff to make the networks safe and reliable, both now and in the future,” they said.

“The AER’s decision will have an impact on the size of the capital and operating programs. This in turn will help determine the number of apprentices who can be responsibly employed.”

The spokesperson said they expected new apprentices to start work mid-year.

“Since 2011, Essential Energy has recruited more than 200 new apprentices with intake based on business need, rather than location,” they said.

“There are 89 graduating apprentices joining Essential Energy’s workforce this year to help build, maintain and operate our electricity network into the future.”

Mr Butler said the AER would not make its decision until “conveniently, after the election”, which is down for March 28 next year.

“If the Liberal National Party are returned, a sale might be taking place,” he said.

“My view is that this is the start. In years to come, Transgrid and Essential Energy wouldn’t have the skills needed to maintain the network and they would have to bus in and bus out workers or fly-in, fly-out.”

Mr Butler said this would mean skills and money lost to regional areas such as Tamworth, meaning fewer good jobs for young people, encouraging them to leave for metropolitan areas.

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