Unions are being hauled before the industrial commission by newly privatised electricity firm Ausgrid over an offshore jobs dispute potentially embarrassing to former labour movement chiefs Greg Combet and Dave Oliver.
The case is the first industrial flashpoint since the NSW government last year leased a controlling interest in the electricity “poles and wires” company to superannuation funds IFM Investors and Australian Super for $16 billion.
The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union placed a ban on their members from training the Indian-based contractors.
In a circular to members, the unions warned that “this is the first step in management’s bigger picture and desire to contract our local jobs at the expense of Australian workers”.
Ausgrid alleges the ban amounts to unprotected industrial action – which is disputed by the unions – and is seeking an order from the Fair Work Commission that it stop.
On Friday Ausgrid requested that the unions withdraw the ban in a letter to NSW ETU secretary Dave McKinley and USU secretary Graeme Kelly.
The matter is before the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday morning.
Mr Kelly said it was “absolutely outrageous that the new management of Ausgrid is not only sending specialist jobs overseas, but they are taking legal action to force workers to travel to India to train the consultants who will be taking these jobs”.
He also noted that federal Treasurer Scott Morrison blocked bids for Ausgrid from Chinese and Hong Kong companies over security concerns.
“Yet we now have the Australian buyers simply handing this same sensitive information over to a foreign multinational,” he said.
Mr McKinley said the NSW government “claimed privatisation wasn’t about slashing skilled jobs or services, but less than a year after taking the reins the new private owners are sending critical services offshore”.
An Ausgrid spokeswoman said unions were consulted about the move early last year before the new owners took over in December.
The change was “a blended delivery arrangement which means Ausgrid will still employ staff to get the data from the field, record it and complete spot checks of all information entered”.
She said it was “carefully planned and is part of a broader ongoing restructure within Ausgrid to make sure our workforce size and mix of skills is efficient, our network is safe and meets customers’ needs”.
Australian Super, IFM Investors and Mr Combet declined to comment, while Mr Oliver did not respond to a request for comment.