27th August 2015
Infrastructure giant Transfield will face legal action over online job advertisements seeking temporary migrants to work on some of Australia’s largest electricity networks less than two months after slashing 120 jobs in Victoria.
An entire division of Victorian powerline maintenance workers and apprentices lost their jobs in June as Transfield cited a downturn in work from power distributors including SP Ausnet.
Transfield’s job cuts bring the number of powerline worker redundancies in Victoria to about 400 so far this year, adding to concerns of an unemployment crisis within the industry. On Wednesday, Downer EDI began negotiations over more Victorian powerline staff lay-offs.
Overseas recruitment ads are running online seeking foreign workers from Britain to fill vacancies in Transfield’s powerline maintenance division in Australia. “Transfield Services in Australia are looking to relocate UK-based electrical linesmen, construction supervisors and project managers with utilities experience to capital cities within Australia,” one ad states.
Transfield Services said recruitment agency ads were now outdated and did not reflect the company’s current recruitment practices. A spokeswoman said the company had consulted with union representatives to minimise the impact of workforce reduction on its local employees.
But the recruitment notices have raised questions about whether Transfield’s Victorian redundancies were “genuine” under industrial law, and they will come under scrutiny in looming legal action.
The Electrical Trade Union says it will raise the matter in the Fair Work Commission in October and was considering seeking a federal court injunction.
State secretary Troy Gray said it was astonishing that Transfield had advertised jobs for qualified line-workers in Australian cities at the same time as retrenching 120 skilled Victorians from the industry.
He said interstate redeployment options were never discussed with the laid-off employees and apprentices, many of whom remain out of work after suddenly losing their jobs.
“There is a surplus, more than at any other time in decades, of qualified, under-employed line workers in Victoria and interstate that could fill these positions being advertised in the UK,” Mr Gray said.
A former Transfield apprentice in Melbourne, who lost his job in June, said most laid-off Victorian workers would have taken up redeployment options if they had been offered.
“They told us they’d done everything, looked everywhere, but there were no other jobs for us,” said the worker, who did not want to be named.
“They never said we might have work here or there … it was just a rort.”
Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the powerline maintenance redundancies were due to the “peaks and troughs” of distributors’ maintenance operations.
“We will pursue this issue further with the industry, the regulator and union to try and prevent these losses going forward,” she said.
SP Ausnet spokesman Jonathon Geddes said the distributor used up to 20 service providers such as Transfield to deliver a safe and reliable power supply.
He said service providers made changes to their workforce in response to specific projects, and maintenance and network incidents, such as extreme weather events.