Internal power squabble threatens State supply

SOURCES within the Western Australian Government are blaming the threat of industrial action at the State’s major power stations on an internal Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union battle.

The sources say CEPU organiser Shane O’Byrne used the threatened action to rally support from rank and file members before the union’s State Council meeting on September 10.

However, Mr O’Byrne has accused the Government, in particular Energy Minister Eric Ripper, of interfering with CEPU politics.

“Eric Ripper is a member of the centre faction along with [Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union secretary] Kevin Reynolds who is backing Recharge,” he said.

Recharge is a group led by Les McLaughlan, who narrowly missed out on unseating CEPU secretary Bill Game, an ally of Mr O’Byrne’s, last month.

Mr O’Byrne admitted his position was under threat but denied the industrial action was aimed at propping up personal support.

He said the issues his members were concerned about included inadequate redundancy and relocation provisions and cut bonuses.

While Western Power reported a record profit and the Government received a 7 per cent higher dividend than last year, Western Power workers’ bonuses were cut from $1,365 in 2001-02 to $850 for 2002-03.

Mr McLaughlan confirmed members of his Recharge group were challenging Mr O’Byrne’s position.

“I couldn’t say for sure that the industrial action is aimed at propping up O’Byrne’s position but I have heard it suggested,” Mr McLaughlan said.

The threatened industrial action, which also involves Australian Services Union members, is timed to coincide with the introduction into parliament of a bill that will allow the disaggregation of Western Power, expected in late October.

Both unions say they can, for example, cut power to Parliament House and leave the rest of the grid unaffected.

Mr O’Byrne said the fact Western Power managing director Stephen van der Mye had agreed to meet with him and power station shop stewards showed their concerns had credibility.

Muja power station CEPU shop steward Paul Fairbanks, who led industrial action at that power station on September 6, said neither that action nor the proposed October were aimed at backing up Mr O’Byrne’s position.

“I think the icing on the cake for the blokes is that we’ve just come out of all that trouble with the [Epic] pipeline where guys were working longer shifts to keep the power supply up and find our bonus has been cut,” he said.

“And then we read that the boss [Western Power CEO Stephen van der Mye] is getting a $100,000 bonus for breaking Western Power up.”

ASU secretary Paul Burlinson said he had not heard any suggestion that the proposed industrial action was designed to prop up Mr O’Byrne’s position.

“I’m not about to have my members involved with anything to do with power struggles within the CEPU,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Ripper denied the Minister was playing any part in CEPU politics.

“We know better than to interfere in union elections,” he said.

The spokesman said the unions were foolish to keep playing the employment card because Mr Ripper had said on several occasions and even written to Western Power employees telling them that no Western Power workers would lose their jobs with the disaggregation of the utility.

He said the argument over Dr van der Mye’s bonus was also flawed.

“Dr van der Mye is not receiving a $100,000 bonus. His bonus is capped at $45,000 and there are a number of criteria that need to be met. It is not set in stone,” the spokesman said.

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