Australian companies spend millions spying on workers!

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DISCLOSURES by New South Wales (NSW) Government-owned electricity network companies have revealed almost five million dollars was spent in just four years to hire external law firms and private investigators to attack their workforces over disciplinary and industrial matters.

Documents released under the Government Information (Public Access) Act revealed Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid spent $4,604,703 on external legal services between 2010 and 2014.

An additional $223,832 was spent on private investigators in 2014, with Essential Energy revealing that more than 90 per cent of their spending on these services involved workers being investigated for ‘alleged non-compliances’ with the company’s code of conduct. The GIPA documents showed Ausgrid had spent $1,276,013 on industrial matters, $181,673 on disciplinary matters, and $40,569.20 on private investigators.

Essential Energy paid $1,457,824 for industrial matters, $21,398 for disciplinary, and $67,847 for private investigators. And Endeavour Energy reported $1,420,000 for industrial matters, $150,000 for disciplinary matters, and $48,149 for private investigators. Representatives from the Electrical Trades Union and the United Services Union said it was outrageous that millions of dollars in public money, that came directly from consumers, had been spent by the management teams at the four public companies to attack their own workforces.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler also highlighted the vast difference between the amount spent by the four companies, with those under the control of Networks NSW chief executive Vince Graham spending on average nine times as much to attack workers and unions. ”Networks NSW have been crying poor in recent months, announcing that 2,800 jobs at Ausgrid, Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy need to be slashed,’ Butler said.

‘What they haven’t revealed is that they were able to find more than a million dollars a year to spend on external law firms and private investigators solely to attack the hard working men and women who maintain our electricity network and respond during natural disasters. ‘Transgrid, who announced no job losses following the determination of the Australian Energy Regulator, has also been shown to have far more modest spending habits compared to the remaining three electricity network companies who are currently slashing jobs.’

United Services Union energy manager Scott McNamara said it was particularly concerning to discover that in addition to the large amounts spent attacking workers and their conditions, private investigators had been recruited to spy on employees without any disclosure. ‘Last year alone, nearly a quarter of a million dollars in public money was handed over to private investigators so they would spy on the hard-working employees of these four companies,’ McNamara said.

‘The fact that such large sums were involved, and the spending was spread across all four companies, shows this approach has become common practice among management teams at war with their own staff. The NSW Government tries to blame workers for electricity prices, but what they don’t tell consumers is that millions of dollars from their power bills have been poured into the pockets of large law firms and private investigators. This kind of behaviour… is not acceptable in NSW, where committed workers dedicate their working lives to serving the public by ensuring they have a safe, reliable and affordable electricity supply.’

• Symbolic white gags were the garment of choice for many of the 100 or so teachers and medical workers who turned out to Belongil Beach on Saturday to protest against the Government’s Border Force Act. The Act, passed surreptitiously on July 1, forbids any staff working with asylum seekers in various onshore and offshore detention centres from speaking out about conditions under pain of a jail sentence of up to two years.

Organiser Dr Rachel Heap said the local protest was staged in solidarity with those frontline healthcare workers put into an ‘impossible situation’ by the legislation. This is targeted at people who are there to care for the most vulnerable members of society,’ Dr Heap said. We’re representing people who spend our working lives looking after the welfare of others,’ she added.

Critics say the legislation means workers are being intimidated into not speaking out about abuses in detention centres. It comes at a time when reports of abuses have become more widespread. In April, an open letter by former employees of the Nauru detention centre was distributed to media which claimed chronic physical and sexual abuse of women and children had been going on there and was known by the Department of Immigration for more than a year prior.

The group called for a Royal Commission into the allegations and the Department’s response.

Dr Heap said the Border Force Act was drawn up and passed soon after that letter. She condemned the Federal Government for the ‘sneaky’ way it introduced the legislation despite its profound implications. ”How did they get this through without there being a proper debate about it?’ she said.

‘Why else do you need to be secret unless you’ve got something to hide? Kids are trying to kill themselves right now in detention and we’re those who could speak up for them. The root of this problem is we’re jailing people for seeking asylum. Refugees are a global issue and stopping one element of the problem is not dealing with the problem, it’s just shifting it somewhere else.’

Lismore registered nurse Anne Mackenzie took the day off work to attend the protest and drove from The Channon, with others having come from as far as Murwillumbah and Lismore. Nurse Mackenzie chose to wear masking tape across her chest inscribed with the words ‘I shall not be gagged’.

• Hundreds of Geelong, Colac and Surf Coast residents spoke to local paramedics, nurses and teachers today about the importance of penalty rates (unsocial hours payments) to pay their bills and their concerns about the effect of the Abbott Government’s cuts to health and education and the impact the China Free Trade Agreement will have on local jobs. Residents in Geelong, Colac and the Surf Coast have loudly declared they want their elected representatives to leave their penalty rates alone and protect health, education and local jobs.

Australian Unions are disappointed that Liberal MP Sarah Henderson has chosen to describe members of her community talking about issues that are important to them as illegitimate. This is pretty worrying from an elected Member of Parliament. Instead of maliciously and condescendingly dismissing the concerns of the people she claims to represent, Sarah Henderson could easily and clearly support penalty rates and ask her colleague the Prime Minister to remove the bill they have before Parliament which will make it easier for bosses to force workers into unfair contracts that will cut penalty rates.

Geelong’s economy has already been hit hard by thousands of job losses in the manufacturing sector and cutting penalty rates will not just mean that thousands more Geelong residents will have less money to spend in local businesses but it will also see families struggle to make ends meet. Today’s doorknock is part of a local campaign by Australian Unions to protect penalty rates, education, health, public services and local jobs to build a better future.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said: ‘Residents in Geelong, Colac and the Surf Coast opened their doors to speak with local paramedics, nurses and firefighters, and declared they support penalty rates and are concerned about the effects of the Abbott Government’s cuts. Locals loudly declared they want high quality education and not be saddled with a $100,000 debt when they graduate, access to quality universal healthcare when they are sick, and local jobs to be protected – they don’t want to see the growth of a US-style working poor.

‘Union members are part of the thousands of nurses, teachers, security guards, paramedics, truck drivers and shop workers in this community who rely on weekend and penalty rates to make ends meet and the community supports this.’