Australia’s largest electricity distributor has launched legal action to force staff members to travel to India to train a replacement workforce as part of the outsourcing of critical information technology services.
Ausgrid, which was privatised last year by the NSW Government, will this morning seek to have the Fair Work Commission rule that workers refusing to travel overseas to train contractors who will take the jobs of their colleagues are involved in unauthorised industrial action.
The company informed staff that it had signed a contract with Indian multinational Tata Consultancy Services to outsource more than a third of the workforce in the Geographic Information System section.
GIS is responsible for developing and maintaining detailed mapping information covering every element of the electricity network that provides power to more than a million homes and businesses in Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter and Central Coast.
As a result of the outsourcing announcement, which will initially see the local workforce cut from 77 to 45, power industry unions the United Services Union and Electrical Trades Union imposed a ban on their members being involved in training contractors engaged to replace Ausgrid workers.
“It is absolutely outrageous that the new management of Ausgrid is not only sending specialist jobs overseas, but they are taking legal action to force workers to travel to India to train the consultants who will be taking these jobs,” USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said.
“If the FWC sides with management, workers will be legally forced to fly overseas and train people to take the jobs of co-workers, colleagues and friends.
“This is absolutely appalling corporate behaviour, which is why union members have taken a stand and said they won’t be involved in training contractors that will take local Ausgrid jobs.”
ETU secretary Dave McKinley said the outsourcing announcement also revealed that the company had no intention of abiding by job protections put in place ahead of the privatisation.
“The NSW Government claimed privatisation wasn’t about slashing skilled jobs or services, but less than a year after taking the reigns the new private owners are sending critical services offshore,” he said.
“Because workers can’t be forcibly sacked under the job protections imposed by the NSW Parliament, Ausgrid management instead makes redeployed staff come to work each day with nothing to do and no colleagues to interact with, mentally grinding them down until they accept a ‘voluntary’ redundancy.
“This rubber room treatment is not only appalling corporate behaviour, it’s the reason workers are so committed to ensuring their actions don’t lead to colleagues suffering this fate.”
Mr Kelly said there were also serious security concerns about the outsourcing plans.
“The Federal Government blocked the sale of Ausgrid to buyers from China and Hong Kong because of the concerns of security agencies regarding foreign control of critical electricity infrastructure, yet we now have the Australian buyers simply handing this same sensitive information over to a foreign multinational,” he said.
“If companies from China or Hong Kong having access to this infrastructure was a security risk, surely it should be concerning that an Indian multinational will be controlling critical network information.”
Mr McKinley said the unions would be vigorously defending the legal action.
“Not only do we believe workers should have the right to follow their conscience and not train a workforce of overseas contractors to take the jobs of colleagues, we also dispute the company’s claim that this amounts to industrial action,” he said.
“In a nation built on mateship, sticking up for your co-workers should be something that is praised, not dragged through the courts and punished.”