Electricity, Water and Utilities

Electricity, Water and Utilities

Proposed changes to Essential Energy Drug & Alcohol testing policy

Peter Moss - Friday, December 21, 2018
On Tuesday 18 December officials and delegates from the ETU, USU, CFMEU and Professionals Australia met with Essential Energy’s senior management team to discuss the proposed changes to drug and alcohol testing that has been widely canvassed over the last 2 months. The key takeaway from the meeting is that Essential intends to introduce urine testing to complement the current oral swab impairment tests and to lower the Blood Alcohol Concentration threshold to zero. They plan to implement the changes on 1 July 2019 with a wide range of measures and further consultation between now and then.
The conversation was robust. The combined unions left the management team in no doubt about where we stand on this matter. Our positions are clear and united. We do not support the proposed changes. The company has not been able to mount a creditable argument for the need to change the current policy. Nor has Essential been able to provide any statistical information that the current drug and alcohol policy is not achieving its desired outcomes or expectations. Based on the data provided, in 2018 FY 830 tests were conducted, (less than 28% of workforce). This resulted in one positive alcohol test and seven non-negative drug results -- which equates to less than 1% in the breach category. We know one of these drug tests was a targeted test.
According to the Essential Energy CEO, one of the primary reasons for these changes is that most of the company’s footprint is in rural communities. Apparently statistics in these same rural communities show drug and alcohol abuse is a major problem. It appears the CEO has formed the view that a similar proportion of his workforce are likely to be drug and alcohol abusers. The company wants to introduce invasive tests to see what you all get up to outside of the workplace. It’s that simple, that is their justification. We say that the current system acts as a deterrent and their own statistics prove it. Not one safety incident has been attributed to alcohol or drugs.

The company’s current proposal fails to address a number of concerns being raised by our members, delegates and officials, including:
• Lack of detail around rehabilitation programs for people who find themselves caught up in a failed test result for drugs and/or alcohol. This issue needs to be addressed regardless of whether the proposed changes proceed
• Lack of a draft policy to review
• Lack of detail around privacy when conducting a test at work
• Lack of detail around self-testing equipment and process
• Lack of focus in genuinely dealing with suicide prevention & mental health issues that potentially interact with drugs and alcohol
• Lack of information surrounding the cost of the proposed changes and how that will affect AER funding arrangements
• Lack of education and training around drugs & alcohol.

Given this lack of critical detail, the ETU proposed an alternative proposal as an interim measure, supported by other unions. We advocated that the company cease implementation of their proposed changes and immediately review the current system to identify its obvious failings. These include irregular visits by testers (i.e. some depots get done every three months while some haven’t seen testers for 18 months) and the hit or miss approach (i.e. testers arrive 20 minutes after crews have left the depot). We suggest the company rolls out a more rigorous approach for 12 months, then we sit down and analyse the data. If the new data show a significant shift in the wrong direction, then we will sit down and examine what other methods should be explored.
The ETU and the combined unions remain firmly opposed to the current changes. We will continue to advocate that the status quo remains for D&A testing in the workplace.

Justin Page