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CEPU holds the state to ransom with a two-day strike

We have begun advising families and businesses across Perth and the south-west of WA that all planned work will be cancelled on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 May.

All scheduled maintenance and planned work will cease because of a two-day strike called by the Communications, Electrical & Plumbing Union (CEPU), commencing 5am on Thursday and involving up to 820 employees.

Last minute talks called by Western Power today failed to dissuade the CEPU from pursuing its planned action, which has the potential to cause disruption in power supplies to customers.

Executive Manager Asset Operations Sam Barbaro said while Western Power supported the right of employees to take industrial action, it was extremely disappointing that the union continued to refuse to quarantine cyclone-affected areas of the state from its industrial bans. This is despite there still being about 400 homes without power five weeks after the storm struck.

“The union was clearly not interested in reaching a settlement today, presenting new claims that have not previously been raised with us in the past year or so of wage negotiations,” he said.

“A new claim is an allowance of up to $150 per day for when employees covered by the CEPU enterprise agreement are required to share facilities with each other, such as kitchens and toilets. This new allowance is in addition to the relevant Living Away from Home Allowance already paid, and having accommodation provided.

“The strike may also affect some parts of the community if there are any unplanned outages, although the CEPU has agreed to ensure urgent repair work will be undertaken where there is a threat to life.”

Mr Barbaro said that notwithstanding further concessions offered to the union today, Western Power had gone as far as it could to meet the union’s demands.

“We believe the CEPU’s demands to be unreasonable and out of line with community expectations and industry standards. If we agree to their claims it would cost over $30 million a year and equate to an almost 40 per cent increase on the average annual wage of people covered under the CEPU agreement. This represents a significant financial impost on our customers and the broader community.

“We explicitly told the union that if we could not resolve the situation by midday today then we would need to start cancelling all our scheduled maintenance work for Thursday and Friday.

“The nature of our business means we have to plan jobs several days, weeks and even months in advance. Regrettably, we’ve reached the point where even if the union was to cancel their action, we’d still be unable to proceed with jobs currently scheduled for Thursday and Friday.”

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that those customers who will be affected are fully informed of the impact on them, so they can make alternate plans and arrangements for those days.

We’re proactively advising customers affected through personal contact, emails and text messages about the CEPU industrial action and its impact on their plans.

People who are concerned about the impacts of the strike should contact our call centre. We urge the community to keep reporting any faults, shocks and tingles through our 13 13 51 number 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The strike is part of a range of industrial actions being undertaken by the CEPU, including a range of partial work bans and a ban on all planned overtime, which has an impact as some work is planned out of hours to minimise disruptions to customers.

Western Power’s response to industrial action is being conducted in accordance with the Fair Work Act.

Background

In mid-2020, Western Power began negotiations with the CEPU for a replacement enterprise agreement that will cover around 820 of our operational employees.

In December 2020 and April 2021, the CEPU applied for, and was granted, a protected action ballot order (PABO) by the Fair Work Commission. The subsequent ballot for eligible employees to vote on whether they want the right to take certain types of industrial action was successful, enabling members to take certain types of industrial action, ranging from partial to full work bans, provided at least five days’ written notice is given.

Our offer to employees to be covered by the CEPU EA is fair and in line with, if not better than, industry standards including wage increases of $1,000 per year.

Additional new benefits include two extra days paid leave per year known as wellness days; 10 minute paid tea break per day; electrical license allowance of $27.33 per week; mechanical allowance increase to $40 per fortnight and paid meal breaks during emergency events, improvements to the availability allowance; higher duties pay after one day instead of two; and a commitment to retain apprentices who complete apprenticeship before 31 August 2022 for two years post-apprenticeship.