One frontline Ausgrid worker, who asked not to be named, said most workers had “exceeded hours” and had been stood down for the week. He said some were taken off sites in the middle of jobs. “The whole fatigue policy is a joke – guys have literally [been] taken off jobs because they exceeded hours.”
Electrical Trade Union secretary Justin Page said other companies such as Endeavour and Essential usually contribute resources and manpower, but did so at a reduced capacity this time.
“The overall industry has lost thousands of workers in the past five years: frontline workers in the past who worked quickly to re-install power,” Mr Page said.
As of Friday afternoon, there were 700 workers on the ground including extra crews from Newcastle and the Central Coast as well as teams from other NSW electricity networks.
An Ausgrid spokesperson said the response time was driven by recent weather events, not only changes to resource levels.
“The restoration task is one of making safe, removing vegetation, rebuilding the network and then restoring supply. It is not as simple as restringing cable or repairing damage after a typical storm.”
“The main difficulty in reconnecting remaining homes and businesses is the requirement to rebuild, almost from scratch, critical parts of the network.”
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows power bills have increased substantially in the past 15 years, peaking in 2018. The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) regulates all energy networks, except in Western Australia.
Mr Page said the regulator determines what the capital and operating expenditure of each energy company is and budgets have been cut by 15 per cent.
He said the union supported this policy in terms of keeping people safe, but that it was a lack of manpower, not exhaustion, that was to blame. “It’s been an absolute failure,” he said.
In response, AER chair Clare Savage said the regulator’s responsibility was to “ensure consumers pay no more than is necessary for safe and reliable electricity”.
“Our determinations are focused on efficient spending by the networks. The AER determines the total revenue for the business.
“The business is responsible for deciding how they spend those revenues – delivering the services consumers require while meeting their legal obligations on safety and other issues. Staffing levels are a matter for the business, not the AER.”
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.