Costly dispute

February 14, 2018

New builds across Benalla have ground to a halt in the wake of industrial dispute between AusNet and the Electrical Trades Union.

New home builds in Benalla are being brought to a halt as AusNet and the Electrical Trades Union of Australia (ETU) are locked in a dispute over job security, local apprenticeships and fault-related fires.

Nilesh Singh approached The Ensign after he was told his new build would not have access to power and his only option to complete the property was to hire an electrical generator at a cost of more than $250 per day.

‘‘I do not know how this has come about, I have been told there is a stand off between Ausnet and the ETU, which only impacts the Ausnet area, which is from Wodonga to Benalla, maybe Mansfield,’’ Mr Singh said.

‘‘Here in Benalla we definitely fall into the Ausnet area.

‘‘They won’t connect my property and I cannot get another company as it will be out of their region.

‘‘I have a meeting with my builder tomorrow and they’ll let me know if, after the slab is poured, they will be able to continue construction.

‘‘I will then have to decide if the build will be suspended until a time power is available.

‘‘To continue I have been given a price of $250 a day for a generator.’’

This raises a host of extra concerns for Mr Singh as he has not budgeted for an extra $250 per day and, on top of the price, some tradies have told him they won’t plug their tools into a generator as they might be damaged.

‘‘I know there are people in the area that are building their house and don’t have power and the tradies won’t come to the site as the equipment is blowing from the generators,’’ he said.

‘‘Even in the event the house is completed there is no guarantee when there will be power.’’

‘‘At the moment I am renting, so I will be left with a mortgage and the rent to pay on top,’’ Mr Singh said.

‘‘I’ve got my mum and dad who would like to come over, but my mum has a pacemaker and I can’t have her in a house with no electricity.’’

‘‘Normal people can’t afford $250 a day for a generator,’’ Mr Singh said.

‘‘A building could take up to five months to build, so I might need another loan to pay for the generator let alone the mortgage.’’

Mr Singh said he had looked at the option of going off-grid, but found that to be too expensive, and with no way of finding out when the connection would finally be made he was running out of options.

ETU Victoria state secretary Troy Gray said they were sorry to hear of the inconvenience faced by AusNet customers, but placed the blame squarely with the energy company.

‘‘Our members have had no choice but to take industrial action after a year of AusNet’s absolute refusal to commit to secure jobs and local apprenticeships in our communities,’’ Mr Gray said.

‘‘Our members work around the clock in some of the worst weather to keep the lights on — but AusNet is determined to make their jobs insecure and put profits ahead of safety.

‘‘The poor attitude customers experience from AusNet is what our members have to put up with every day.

‘‘AusNet cuts corners and spends less on maintenance than customers pay for.

‘‘They continue to have the highest rate of fault-related fire starts in Victoria.’’

Mr Gray said there were exemptions and all AusNet customers with legitimate special needs or circumstances would be exempt from the industrial action and would be placed on supply.

‘‘The process for this is that AusNet management need to request exemptions through the relevant ETU official, on their customers’ behalf,’’ Mr Gray said.

‘‘To date, this has not happened.

‘‘The ETU is unable to facilitate connection exemptions for customers who AusNet do not make us aware of.’’

However, AusNet said the information the ETU was providing was not completely accurate.

One example it gave regarded apprenticeships.

It said it was committed to skilling for the future and highlighted an intake of 10 new apprentices and trainees in regional Victoria in January.

It confirmed its ability to make new connections had been affected by the industrial action being taken by the ETU.

It also confirmed it had asked the ETU to lift the bans and made an application to the Fair Work Commission to have them lifted.

That matter has been listed before the Fair Work Commission for this Thursday.

Based on the information provided by the ETU and AusNet it is up to customers to explain to AusNet why they need the supply connected.

They will then require Ausnet to take the necessary steps to pass the information to the ETU members to progress the issue.

If that customer is then deemed to be eligible for exemption from the industrial action a connection can subsequently be made.

●AusNet has asked anyone in a similar situation to Mr Singh who believes they should be exempt to email with their information.

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