Arbitration In Contempt

The Queensland Power Dispute

Wayne L Gilbert

I am delighted to be invited to speak to the H R Nicholls Society on what I regard as one of the most important and historic activities occurring in the Australian industrial arena today. That, of course, is the deregulation of the hitherto bound up industrial society and, hopefully, the demise of rampant and militant union control of this country that we have all seen probably since the beginning of this century.

I am also pleased to be part of what I think is a watershed in industrial relations in Australia. My part in that watershed is the reason that I have been asked to address this seminar, and I say again I am extremely pleased to do so.

I think it is important to structure my paper in a number of ways. I intend to spend some time addressing the history of the basis of the dispute that occurred in Queensland, and from there I will discuss what has occurred since the dispute was finalised. I have a complete chronology of the events leading up to the current date, details of the legislative material enacted, and a copy of our unique Contracts of Service.

SEQEB is an Electricity Distribution Authority---it does not operate power stations---it buys electricity from the Queensland Electricity Commission and sells to 600,000 customers in south east Queensland.

Since the inception of SEQEB in 1977, there have been many disputes concerning the use of private contractors. In 1980, during the shorter hours dispute, agreement was reached between the Government and the Unions (including the ETU) on the use of private contractors, and was embodied in the settlement as part of the quid pro quo for the 9 day fortnight 36-and-a-quarter hour week deal, but was defeated at a mass meeting of Unionists who nonetheless took the shorter week and hours, but rejected the use of contractors part of the deal---so much for negotiation, and, may I say, the integrity of this militant trade union group.

At the end of 1983, the Board needed to establish and enforce a policy in relation to the use of private contractors. In doing so, it set out a policy which, whilst acceptable so far as the rest of Queensland and Australia is concerned (both private and public employers) departed from what SEQEB's past practice had been. Historically, SEQEB employed the exclusive use of day labour to do most forms of work to the exclusion of contractors---in other words, the existing absolute monopoly of day labour in SEQEB was to be broken, but only to a minor extent contractors were envisaged for peak lopping or seasonal work only.

When I arrived at the Board in February 1984, a developer in a rural District decided (as is his right) to proceed to reticulate a relatively small estate by contract rather than employ SEQEB. The ETU took their predictable course, that is, they imposed secondary bans and limitations (refused to connect the estate), and certain strikes took place in protest against the use of this private contractor.

After discussions with senior officers of the Trades and Labor Council, I asked that negotiations take place with the ETU on the question of setting up a contract agreement with the unions to avoid future industrial action. I did that knowing that in 1980, although agreement on the use of private contractors had been reached during the hours case, it was never put into effect because of the duplicity of the Unions

Discussions took place and it was agreed as a forerunner to a proper agreement that temporary labour would be used to complete the small rural job, with those temporary people being terminated at the end of the project. This arrangement was in lieu of the use of private contractors.

At that time, it suited me to at least have some understanding with the union on the use of some private contractors. In essence, what the ETU and SEQEB negotiators came to was an agreement providing for -

  • the use of permanent labour first, then temporary labour, and then contract third;

  • security of employment and even increasing establishment levels;
  • full and open consultation on the need to go to contract;
  • definitions of where contractors would be used, e.g. work peaks, specialisation, or specialised equipment, etc. (Figure 1)

The time that I am referring to is July 1984. The ETU negotiators put the proposal to the State Council of their union and the result can be colloquially described as, 'It was bounced'. Further attempts were made after this to try to get the ETU to see reason, but for one reason or another it would not or could not.

At the time of these negotiations, I had deliberately held up four essential community projects which eventually became a hub of the dispute. They were three transmission lines and a major industrial substation and, as at August 1984, they were well behind schedule because I had not proceeded to advertise tenders for them as I felt that we were close to reaching an agreement. However, in August/September, I was in no other position but to advise the union that time had run out; these projects were definitely needed; they were behind time already; and we had no alternative but to put them to contract. The rest, of course, is history and history that you would probably all well know. In essence, what the union was doing was telling me how to run the Board and they were trying to direct the future of the Board, including the service to its consumers, by the use of blatant force.

Bans and limitations were imposed on those jobs, strike action took place, and in early December a number of conferences were held before the State Industrial Commission. At those conferences, the Commission not only saw the need to reach a decision on contract labour, but indeed recommended and ordered that discussions take place between the parties to reach such agreement. I was told by the State Industrial Commission that I had to further delay the projects whilst this second round of discussions rolled on.

The Commission recommended the draft ETU/SEQEB negotiated agreement and the Union again rejected it.

I don't want to traverse the whole history of what occurred since early December, except to point out a number of things which perhaps would be of interest to you; In the months of December and January, I suppose we were in the State Industrial Commission on perhaps 20 occasions. (Figure 2)

During that time, recommendations were floating around like confetti---as were orders. I felt, in the best interests of SEQEB, and the public, that we had to accede to the various forms of recommendations, and I hoped that the union would do likewise. I say this because, even then, the eleventh hour was on us and, as the dispute assumed major proportions, I felt that there was a goodwill amongst our individual employees, but not shop stewards or union officials who were increasingly militant.

The facts were that the ETU was completely out of control. There were 1,500 of its members in SEQEB who were organised by approximately 120 militant shop stewards. There was no strong leadership from the hierarchy of the union. The then secretary was about to retire and he abrogated his responsibility to a junior organiser who had come from the ranks of militant shop stewards.

Then Brisbane experienced its worst storm in many years. On Friday the 18th January, 1985, a storm ravaged the city at 4 p.m. At 6 o'clock I had just been told by my senior staff that approximately 80,000 consumers---that is, nearly 250,000 Queenslanders---were without supply. The ETU were on strike. In the Commission, at an emergency sitting, the ETU union officials steadfastly refused to allow or permit their members to return to work, even though a number had defied their Union and were on the job. After two hours argument, at 9 p.m., the Commission ordered, and the Electrical Trades Union subsequently very reluctantly agreed, under duress, to restore the power.

Given these circumstances and history, SEQEB decided that compromises and accommodation were not likely to produce a lasting peace. SEQEB and the Unions obviously had failed to reach an acceptable understanding of the use of contract labour---all bets were off---in the public interest we would move to a Main Roads (significant use of contract) type of operation. It was obvious to me that we could not run the Board with the present employees being directed by the union---the only option available to us was to try it another way, and that is why the use of private contract came very much to the forefront.

In late January, the union again commenced strike action, and that continued off and on through until 7 February 1985 when effectively 1,000 ETU employees were on strike. I might add that all the way through January and February the matter was before the State Industrial Commission, and it was becoming apparent that the intransigence of the ETU was growing.

The State Industrial Commission steadfastly refused to arbitrate, despite being pressed for arbitration by the Government and the Industry---the Government for its part guaranteed it would abide by arbitration---the State Industrial Commission knew that the ETU would repudiate any 'unacceptable' arbitration.

As the ETU became more intransigent, the State Industrial Commission became weaker. When the ETU defied an order, the State Industrial Commission put the reverse order on SEQEB, a peace at any price philosophy, which avoided the issues. This policy penalized the reasonable and rewarded the use of muscle. The last back flip by the State Industrial Commission was too much for the Government who, faced with large numbers of consumers without power, a State Industrial Commission that was worse than impotent, declared a State of Emergency and withdrew the electricity industry from the jurisdiction of the State Industrial Commission. (Figure 3)

It was from 7 February 1985 that the Government issued certain Proclamations and Orders in Council which had as their purpose the declaration of a State of Emergency under the Transport Act---an order for any person not to obstruct, interfere with, or harass any person who provides services or ordinary duties in connection with the supply of electricity; an order for striking SEQEB workers to return to work or be dismissed; an order for the Electricity Commissioner to take whatever steps he considered necessary to restore and maintain supply of electricity; prescribed conditions for new employees i.e. no strike, no union preference, 38 hour week, 10 day fortnight etc.

As from 11 February, some 1,000 ETU members failed to obey Orders in Council and they dismissed themselves by failing to present for work. On this day approximately 30,000 residents of south east Oueensland were without power and some had been without power for up to a week.

This is where the second stage of this dispute starts, because from about 7 February, with the declaration of a State of Emergency, or perhaps a little earlier, the dispute had passed out of the hands of SEQEB into the hands of Government.

I had told senior officials of the ETU some four weeks before that such an action would happen. I had also previously told senior officers of the Trades & Labor Council of what would happen. For whatever reason that did not worry them. In fact, they decided to treat the Government with complete contempt. They thought that they were running the State and could do so with complete impunity, and, in my opinion, were savouring a victory over the Queensland Government. Well, how wrong they were.

Next the power station operators reduced output by 50% and so an Order for Rationing of Electricity was issued by the Government, which effectively shut down industry. Rotational load shedding commenced with a '2 hours on-2 hours of' cycle---causing untold hardship and misery throughout the State. It is even more incredible to realise that power station operators were not on strike. They were merely refusing to bring up the level of power sufficient to meet the needs of the community. This was an even more insidious act because, whilst their bans and restrictions were crippling industry, with half a million laid off, they were being paid, and paid well---I'm told they are in the $45,000 plus league. It has been estimated that the loss to the State in economic terms was around $600 millions.

Something had to be done to restore power to relieve the trauma being suffered throughout Queensland. Writs were served on about 200 power station operators in an attempt to get them back to work by preventing them hindering the supply of electricity under the Industrial (Commercial Practices) Act 1984. Yet before this matter was heard in the Supreme Court of Queensland in Brisbane, full power was restored and load shedding ceased. Why?

It is interesting also to note that, whilst the unions treated the State Industrial Commission with impunity, with contempt, they certainly did not when actions were taken in the Supreme Court of Queensland---under the Industrial (Commercial Practices) Act of 1984. The main relevance, of course, in that respect, was that SEQEB was seeking pecuniary damages and penalties that are available under that Act. (Figure 4)

There are a few reasons why I believe power was suddenly, after 10 days, restored to Queensland.

    1. The writs issued on the operators personally along with various Orders for them to return to work may have weakened their will to keep the State in darkness.

    2. Bill Kelty made a visit to Queensland. Perhaps he expressed concern over the damaging effect the union's actions might be having on the Cain Government's pending election.

    3. The unions were under increasing pressure from the community---half a million unionists were out of work for 10 days and others were becoming more irate with unions because of the recurring disruptions.

    4. I must also mention here the Government's peace plan offered to unions. It included a no-strike agreement and a possible offer of re-employment to dismissed SEQEB employees who re-applied for jobs. The unions interpreted this as meaning the Industrial Commission would order reinstatement of all dismissed SEQEB workers.

For whatever reason, full power was restored by 22 February 1985---10 days of 50% load shedding was over and the community started to return to normal. (Figure 5)

Now that power was restored, there had to be some way of getting normal operations within SEQEB. With between 30,000 and 40,000 people with no electricity, we had to have the authority to get people to work against Union threats and to do various things which would provide for a continuing supply of electricity. To that end, the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985 is important, and had to be enacted. This Act included the power of direction. Our employees at that time still at work (and there were approximately 600 of them, less than 50 in Brisbane, plus executives) wanted protection by being directed to work.

Contractors also asked for direction as a protection to them against subsequent action from Unions. Not one contractor was directed against his will.

In the three weeks prior to the Assent to the Continuity of Supply Act, there were seven acts of physical violence and thirty one acts of heavy personal intimidation against individual workers. Since that time, of course, the tragic list of harassment and physical violence has transcended anything that I would have or possibly could have imagined. I could only describe them as being barbarous acts which anybody in our society would term thuggery. It is no wonder to me that, in the many months following the dispute, and even up until the present day, arrests continue. Legislation was necessarily enacted to stop such brutal activity. Quite frankly, I would not blame the Government if future legislation in new form, or an amendment to the existing acts, is brought into play to stop such wanton acts of violence. The civil libertarians may protest but surely the law abiding general public has rights.

What distinguishes electricity supply work from general industry is that the great majority of it is done in public places, where honest workers obeying the law of the State, working in sometimes hazardous conditions, are at a great disadvantage against demonstrators.

Those employees that dismissed themselves embarked on a role of extreme harassment. Take one example. A number of men were working at Fisherman's Island up a pole between energised mains at 33,000 volts. Along came a group of harassers (about 20). They interfered with the work that was proceeding on the ground, threatened people working in the air, and I don't know about you, but I would want my mind firmly placed on what I was doing in a live situation in those circumstances. Threats were also made along the lines of 'When you are at work, who is protecting your wife and kids?' Other examples have come forward which are equally insidious. Things such as, 'When we come back to work you will never be safe. You might think you are working on dead mains, and somebody's going to throw the switch and fry you alive'. In a Wickham Terrace incident, a group of cable jointers were working in a street pit between live 11,000 volt mains when they were heckled and spat upon. Cars have been vandalized, windows broken, and countless abusive and obscene telephone calls directed at workers' families.

Now, these are just examples of many many statements and threats made against employees whilst they were at work or, indeed, whilst at home. Freedom in our society should mean freedom to work without intimidation. You wonder why legislation has to be brought to bear to stop this type of activity---it is only necessary because of the extreme intimidation being used. I am in no doubt that the direction provisions and the anti-harassment provisions were, and are, essential. (Figure 6)

Another step taken by the Government to assist harassed workers was the passing of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Act 1985. One of the aims of this Act was to make it possible for a union member to resign from a union immediately, and not have to give three months' notice, with dues up to that date. There were many ETU members working for SEQEB who were paying union dues on one hand and yet being abused for working by union officials and other members on the other. It is understandable that they would want an easier way of resigning from the union in that situation and this Act catered for that.

I think it is worth mentioning that this Act also strengthened the definition of the term 'strike'. From the original definition which referred to an employee's cessation of work or refusal or failure to continue to work, it now includes any ban, restriction or limitation on the performance of work and any refusal or failure to perform work required in accordance with their contract of employment or any performance of work in a manner other than that in which it is customarily performed. The aim of the amendment was to broaden the meaning of the term 'strike', and, with appropriate penalties associated with its misuse, reduce the number of stoppages.

I come to the question of the establishment of the new Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal. (Figure 7)

The union movement was using power station operators as vampires against the public throat. The three major power stoppages---where operators turned down the power---put off the lights---created additional unemployment and enforced suffering on many---particularly the elderly and the sick---were all cases where the operators were acting in support of outside union causes. For example:

  • 1979-80---Load Shedding over 9 days in support of general claims for a 35 hour week;
  • 18 August to 20 August 1982---Load shedding occurred as a protest over Queensland Government's use of Essential Services Act to evoke a State of Emergency during Queensland Railway 38 hour week case;
  • 1985---When secondary strike action in support of the 1,000 SEQEB workers who dismissed themselves caused blackouts for 10 days resulting in untold misery and a loss to the State in economic terms estimated at around $600 millions.

Not one of these blackouts was caused by a dispute with the power station operators as such. Blackouts had become a ready tool for militant Unionism.

The Government and the people of Queensland have now come to a stage of expecting that essential services should be free of strikes---electricity is vital and must be always immediately available and that's one good reason why the impotency of the State Industrial Commission had to be replaced by a stronger body--- the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal. (Figure 8)

The framework of the Tribunal is such that it can deal with matters expeditiously and with more teeth than that available to the State Industrial Commission. Orders of the Commission should be regarded as sacrosanct. The ETU rejected 5 out of 5 recommendations of the State Industrial Commission, and 1 out of 5 Orders of the State Industrial Commission, during this dispute. Obviously the unions do not see the State Industrial Commission as relevant and therefore new machinery had to be brought into play to deal with that situation.

I reiterate that the establishment of the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal was very necessary. It has as its charter the fundamental issue of addressing electricity industrial matters. It is competent to deal specifically with industrial causes in the Industry because it is a specialised Tribunal, and there are many examples for that throughout the rest of Australia. It is not just a sideline to the mainstream of 'clients of the old State Industrial Commission'. In fact, it has more teeth by virtue of its enacting legislation than the Industrial Commission ever had. It has to take into account the prosperity of the economy, the economics of the electricity industry and electricity consumers' interests, the effect on other industries in Queensland, and the management of the authorities. Surely this is necessary because, for so long now, there has been scant regard for the capacity to pay amongst Australian business---particularly when you relate it to the dealings of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. For once business has its way---and so it should, because how can people be employed when no regard is had to the prevailing economic climate. What it does is to deal with matters in the framework of a no strike arena expeditiously and fairly, and immediate access is a available to all parties in the Industry.

I would think you would all agree that that is certainly not the case with the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

I now turn from history to the present day.

What is immensely pleasing to me is what has happened since the dispute. We have now over 200 new employees in SEQEB, who happily commenced work after the dispute under the 38 hours week 10 day fortnight and no strike provisions, and a further 150 who returned under the new conditions. There is a new ethos in SEQEB, and one that is directed towards providing satisfaction to the consumer. Our total workforce is down 950 or 20% on March 1983 levels. Our total controllable budget in $ terms to 1986/87 is less than for 1983/84, despite a growth in the network of approximately 6% per annum compound for each of the three years, and inflation at about 7% per annum---a saving over three years of 44%. Our service to the community is better than ever; lost time accidents the lowest ever, and for twelve months not a minute lost to industrial disputes. Work practices have changed dramatically. No longer are there traditional demarcation barriers that haunted us for decades---they are all gone, and the result of that is a massive increase in productivity of the order of up to 40%, but averaging 30%, and a very substantial cost saving of the order of $30 million per annum. What we have now is not a union-directed workforce, but a SEQEB-managed workforce, and the employees are happier under this arrangement than they have been for many many years. I am not saying that things are perfect---of course they aren't, and never will be in any organisation, particularly one that has been through the turmoil that SEQEB has, but we are working on that, and there are a number of new initiatives that have come to the fore which are very interesting and which I think you will find enlightening as well.

I suppose it is human nature that people like to form themselves into groups---for self-protection, for interests, whatever, it seems to be a natural way of life. This is exactly what happened in SEQEB. With the demise of the ETU and the hatred that our employees have of their previous union, a group was formed. That group quite deliberately, did not want to be seen as a union, but wanted to have close ties with management and raise, in a proper fashion, matters of concern. That group (and it is growing) now includes approximately 400 people. They have formed themselves into a Trust, they have arranged their own financing, and now, when matters come before the new Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal, they hire their own industrial advocate who is not bound up with the intricacies of the Industrial Relations Club, and he puts forward their case to the Tribunal. The unions hitherto have refused to attend because they do not recognise the Tribunal. It is important for these employees to appear in the Tribunal because that is the way in which wage justice can be achieved. Quite recently, I am pleased to tell you, that same group of employees have briefed their own Counsel and they are seeking leave to appear in Federal proceedings taken by various unions seeking Federal awards. The Employees Trust is opposed to a Federal Award. The unions have opposed the right of the Trust to appear. The Trust members are in fact opposing their previous unions because they want to stay in the deregulated industrial scene in Queensland.

The Trust has even gone further. It now sees itself as a forerunner to an Industry-based union and has committed itself to the State system set up under the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Act. It is currently seeking registration in the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal as an industrial union of employees, under the name Queensland Power Workers Association. Let me say it does not see itself in the same light as traditional unions---it couldn't bring itself to be called a union. It merely wishes to be a legally recognised representative body looking after the interests of its members and, at the same time, challenging the right of other unions to continue with their militant role. Quite frankly, I support this approach as it is a marked turn-around to what I have seen over many years.

Alongside that group, another group was formed---more of a Staff Association---again away from the traditionalism of unions. That Staff Association is also looking after the interests of its members in a non-confrontist and progressive way.

If these groups develop as I expect them to, they will become embryonic twins, or industry unions, free of outside influence---under the umbrella of the State Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal. (Figure 9)

One of the other big things that has occurred since the dispute is the question of personal Contracts of Service. By legislation, the Government empowered me to enter into individual personal contracts with employees. Rather than to go through the fine details of the contracts, (essentially they are common law contracts between us and the individual employee) legally enforceable, which provide for a prohibition of strike, no union preference under any circumstances, a return to a more acceptable (so far as the community is concerned) working pattern, i.e. 38 hour week 10 day fortnight instead of 36 hour week 9 day fortnight, recognition of managerial prerogative, and other things which give the employer flexibility in managing its own operation. What that means is that there is no demarcation under any circumstances. A copy of the contract is appended to this paper.

Now, whilst these contracts are embryonic at this stage, they are being signed, and some 100 people have availed themselves of that opportunity. I confidently expect the list of people to grow. The contract is for three years, and there is a consideration of 712% paid yearly in consequence of their signing the contract after the event, provided the contract is honoured.

A feeling of deja-vu swept over me the other day when I read Rupert Murdoch's conditions for Print Union labour at his own London printery. He reportedly sought four conditions

    1. Legally binding agreements;

    2. A no strike deal;

    3. No closed shop; and

    4. Confirmation of management's right to manage.

His former Unionists said 'No' with their feet and are now, like our former Unionists, out of work and with no prospects.

His four conditions (and we now have them) should be part of an employer's 'Bill of Rights' as a condition for permanent employment.

However, back to SEQEB.

When I said that there was a new ethos in SEQEB, it does not only relate to the employees, it relates to a new style of doing things. What I am encouraging, and what is being accepted within SEQEB, is a feeling that you don't have to inveigle the help of other people or a militant union to get things done, or to address the problems. It is encouraging to me that there is a personal tie between SEQEB and the individual employee. It exists because they know that being personal with the employer brings far greater results and is more satisfying because individual problems can be dealt with on an individual basis. I intend to encourage that feeling. Of course, the greatest example of that is the personal Contracts of Service which is personal between SEQEB and the individual.

It has been public knowledge that, since the dispute, the union movement generally in Queensland is seeking to have Federal award coverage. Like lemmings over the cliff, they are trying to jump helter-skelter out of the deregulated Queensland industrial scene into the Federal regulated arena. We are opposing them, and with vehemence, and will continue to do so until the right result is achieved. We have battles ahead undoubtedly, but the pleasing thing is we are not alone in opposing these Federal moves. As I said, our own employees are backing us to the hilt. They are being opposed by their former Unions. (Figure 10)

In Queensland we are seeking under our State system a consolidated and modified Electricity Industry Award. Previously, my Board had 18 Awards and 14 unions with the associated headaches of disparity between various classes of employees. What we are seeking to do is threefold. Firstly, we are seeking to standardise provisions between various classes of workers. Secondly, we are deliberately cutting out the rorts that used to exist under previous awards and agreements. Thirdly, we are aiming for a single Industry Award from the base labourer, to the most senior level, that provides for no demarcation barriers or historical industrial tools which slowed up commerce in this country over many many years. That award is currently being processed before the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal and I hope that, in the fullness of time, it will become a reality. As I said, there are a number of hurdles we have to jump in the Federal arena, but I am confident that we will, and that this new industrial award can become a blueprint, perhaps in a small way, for some other organisations in Australia. I believe the unions have had their chance, and maybe they have even had their day. Let me say, it is a lot more pleasing to me to deal with my own employees than a representative of the union who has no allegiance to the Board, its customers, or even, as has been shown, the employees who are its members.

What freedom is there about a union clique dictating to the whole of the community how they should live; defying elected governments and the laws of the State. Is freedom allowing a bunch of non-peaceful protesters to intimidate and endanger the lives of people doing their lawful jobs to provide an essential service to the community? Of course it's not.

What about a Bill of Rights for law abiding citizens, a bill of rights for employers?

What about real justice in an arbitral system?

What about an arbitral system in which coercion has no place?

The SEQEB Dispute is over---finished---the dispute is now about the rights of all citizens---of Queenslanders---to enjoy their lifestyle in safety with all essential services guaranteed---free of intimidation from an aggressive minority, free of the excesses of union power---free of the abuse of union militancy.

SEQEB operating costs are down by 15-20%---we are saving $25-30m annually now. This will grow to $37m next year. This reduction in operating costs can be partly attributed to the lack of industrial disputation within SEQEB. Since SEQEB's inception some eight years ago, there was an average of 30,000 man hours lost each year due to strikes, at a cost of $500,000 per annum. That figure, I am pleased to inform you, has now been reduced to zero. Since the dispute finished some twelve months ago, not one minute has been lost due to strikes.

As taxpayers, you will be interested in how these savings have arisen, and they are tabulated below.


$M P.A.


700 employees $12.7M P A


Value of Contracts $1 2M P.A.

Saving over day labour costs $3.6M P A

INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY through day including -

    Improved attitude to work

    No output limiting arrangements

    No strikes

    No demarcation limits $14.7M P A

As at January 1986 $31.0M P A

Elimination of non-essential activities - to be phased out, including

Appliance Trading $1.0M P A

Building Maintenance $1.0M P A

Vehicle Maintenance $0.5M P A

Sale of Surplus Assets annualized $3.5M P A


Of th $37M savings, two-thirds or $24M is directly attributable to changed labour practices. Of the remainder, nearly $4M to the use of contractors on piece work rates, and the residue, $9M, to a general tightening of management and elimination of wasteful practices or non-essential activities.

SEQEB is doing fine, and, more importantly, so are its consumers. Of that I am proud.

Our service is better than ever, our costs are down, and our employees largely contented---the only cloud on our horizon and our workers' horizon is the claim by Unions for Federal intervention.

I am proud to be part of a 1985 select club like Mudginberrir---like Dollar Sweets---and I hope quite a few more in the future.


Figure 1

The Proposed Contract Labour Agreement Between SEQEB and the ETU

    1. After consultation between parties, contractors to be used:

      (a) where work volume beyond SEQEB's capacity;

      (b) where specialisation beyond SEQEB's capacity;

      (c) where in public interest to expedite such work.

    2. Where work peaks exist, work to be done:

      (a) by existing SEQEB staff---if not, then

      (b) appropriate temporary employees---if not,

      (c) then contractors.

    3. Work traditionally done by contractors to continue.

    4. Contractors:

      (a) will not impair security of SEQEB staff's employment;

      (b) will not be used to avoid increasing staff;

      (c) advice of intended use passed on to ETU before tenders called.

The ETU unilaterally REJECTED this agreement.

Figure 2

ETU Responses To Orders And Recommendations Issued

Date Orders Complied Recommendation Order/Recommendation

with by ETU accepted by ETU

5/12/84 No Striking workers return to work.

6/12/84 Yes Striking workers return to work.

19/12/84 Yes Re-issued orders from 6/12/84.

8/1/85 No Parties to accept draft contract labour agreement.

18/1/85 Yes Striking workers ordered to return to work after severe hailstorm.

6/2/85 No Striking workers to return to work and discussions continue.

7/2/85 No Striking workers to return to work and conference to be held under Commission's chairmanship.

10/2/85 No Lift ban, limitations, return to work.

14/2/85 No Power station staff to return to work

Figure 3


  • Thursday, 7 February 1985. By order in Council No. 25a, the Governor in Council proclaimed a State of Emergency pursuant to the State Transport Act.
  • Thursday, 7 February 1985. By Order in Council No. 25B, it was ordered that a person shall not either alone or in concert with any other person -

      (a) do any act which will interfere with a person doing his duties ordinarily performed in execution of contract of employment;

      (b) do any act which will interfere with a person voluntarily carrying out duties associated with the supply of electricity;

      (c) do any act calculated to harass, annoy or cause harm or distress to persons in (a) or (b) above.

  • Friday, 8 February 1985. By order in Council No. 25C, pursuant to the proclamation of a State of Emergency, it was ordered that any person employed by SEQEB to resume duty when required by his rosters and then to perform such duties he would normally perform. Failure to do so would mean immediate dismissal.
  • Friday, 8 February 1985. By Order in Council No. 25D the Electricity Commissioner was directed to take whatever steps he considered necessary to have work performed to restore and maintain the supply of electricity.
  • Monday, 11 February 1985. By Order in Council No. 32, it was ordered that any person employed by SEQEB during the emergency under the Electrical Engineering Award-State enter into a contract of service with--- a 38 hour week a 10 day fortnight no union preference prohibition against strike action.
  • Tuesday, 12 February 1985. By order in Council No. 34, it was ordered that any employee of the Queensland electricity industry is to comply with direction of the Electricity Commissioner or person authorised by him to restore and maintain supply of electricity or be liable to summary dismissal.

Figure 4


    1. Striking workers lost their will to continue strike following Orders and writs being issued.

    2. Bill Kelty's visit to Queensland---was this debacle by the unions going to affect the Cain Government's chances in the pending Victorian election?

    3. Pressure from Community -

      (i) Unionists---12 million out of work for 10 days

      (ii) Others---anti-union because of recurring disruptions.

    4. Premier's Peace Plan

    • proposed a return to work with no strike clause
    • offered re-employment to dismissed SEQEB employees who re-applied for positions
    • re-employment under no strike, 38 hour week, 10 day fortnight conditions
    • re-employment only offered if dismissed employee not involved in harassment of others.

Figure 5


  • Electricity Commissioner to ensure supply of electricity by whatever means.
  • Dismissal and penalty for failure to comply with a direction of the Electricity Commissioner (penalty $1,000).
  • Prohibition from harassment or obstruction of persons carrying out duties ensuring supply of electricity (Penalty $1,000).
  • Contracts of Service entered into by persons with SEQEB shall contain
    • 38 hour week
    • prohibition on strike action
    • waiving of preference of employment to unionists
  • Removal of the State Industrial Commission's jurisdiction to cover the Electricity Supply Industry.
  • Penalties incurred under the Act recoverable by way of complaint.

Figure 6


  • An expansion of the definition of 'strike' to encompass all forms of industrial activity, e.g. overtime bans, limitation on work, and refusal to carry out lawful instructions.
  • Relaxation of 3 months' notice of intention to resign from a Trade Union to immediate resignation subject to being financial at the effective date of resignation.
  • The insertion of a provision making it unlawful to incite and encourage strike action.
  • A Full Bench can mandatorily declare non compliance with an Order; this gives Governor-in-Council power to suspend or cancel registration of a Union.
  • Power to direct secret ballots to provide for only 5% of the number of employees involved, or 250, whichever is less.
  • Non-unionists not to be prejudiced in employment.

Figure 7


August 1978

Covered car park dispute---load shedding over 2 days.


Load shedding over 9 days in support of general claims for a 35 hour

22 October 1980

Load shedding (sporadic) over claims in relation to superannuation.

8-11 July 1981

Load shedding over 3 days in protest against SECQ intervention over a QEGB award matter.

18-20 August 1982

Load shedding occurred as a protest over Queensland Government's issue of Essential Services Act to evoke a State of Emergency during Queensland Railway 38 hour week case.

April 1983

Sporadic load shedding in protest against a control room being fitted with a surveillance camera

September 1984

Load shedding (1 day) over subsidised housing---Tarong Power Station.

November 1984

Limited bad shedding, over a 3 week period, over subsidised housing.

12-22 February 1985

Secondary strike action in support of the 1,000 SEQEB workers who dismissed themselves.

Figure 8


ACT 1985

  • Establishment of an Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal with more powers than the State Industrial Commission.
  • The removal of jurisdiction of the State Industrial Commission from hearing disputes in the Electricity Industry.
  • Reference to arbitration if requested by one of the parties to a dispute (not provided for in Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act).
  • Factors to be considered by the Tribunal when considering matters brought to it

      (a) the prosperity of the economy of Queensland;

      (b) the economics of the operation of Electricity Authorities in Queensland, the particular Authority in question, and the consumers' interest therein;

      (c) the effects of any decision made on other sectors of industry within Queensland;

      (d) the role and responsibilities of management of Electricity Authorities.

  • Part IV prescribes conditions of employment in electricity callings covering -

      1. Negation of preference

      2. Illegality of strike

      3. Discharge of contract of employment for strike

      4 Discharge of Industrial Agreements by striking persons parties to same

      5. Penalties for strike action -

        (a) dismissal without notice

        (b) suspension without pay for as long as employer thinks fit

Figure 9


    1. It is entirely VOLUNTARY.

    2. It is a common law contract between SEQEB and the Employee (NO UNION INVOLVEMENT).

    3. It PROVIDES that the employee WILL -

      (i) Recognise continuity of supply of electricity must be protected at all times

      (ii) Work 38 hrs per week 10 days a fortnight.

      (iii) Not strike.

      (iv) Work where and when required.

      (v) Live away from home if required.

      (vi) Abide by any lawful instruction of the employer.

      (vii) Refer any unresolved dispute to the State Tribunal and abide by the Tribunal's decision

      (viii) Acknowledge the State legislation and understand that NO union preference exists.

    4. The Employer agrees -

      (i) To provide permanent employment (except for misconduct).

      (ii) To renew contract on expiry (3 years).

      (iii) Pay consideration of 712% of gross earnings in December each year.

Figure 10


1. To standardize provisions between various classes of workers.
2. To cut out the rorts that used to exist under previous awards and agreements
3. To have a single Industry Award from the base labourer upwards which contains no demarcation barriers or historical industrial tools which hinder productivity.

Contract of Service


(hereinafter called 'the employee') of the one part and THE SOUTH EAST QUEENSLAND ELECTRICITY BOARD (hereinafter called 'the employer') of the other part.


WHEREAS the parties have agreed that the employer wishes to engage the services of the employee for the purpose of carrying out the functions and duties of the employer under the Electricity Act 1976 (as amended);

AND WHEREAS the employee has agreed to enter into a Contract of Service with the employer pursuant to, and in accordance with the provisions of the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Act 1985 (as amended) for the purposes of such engagement;

AND WHEREAS the parties have agreed that such engagement is, and always remains, subject to the following basic understanding as to the intent of the parties in signing this Contract, namely:

Permanency in employment

    (a) to provide permanent employment for the employee with the employer subject to the terms hereof;

Continuity of supply of electricity

    (b) in consideration of (a), the employee acknowledges, and will continue to so acknowledge throughout the duration of this Contract, that the continuity and maintenance of the supply of electricity to all consumers within the employer's area is of fundamental importance to the employer's objectives, and to the discharge of the employer's functions and duties pursuant to the Electricity Act 1976 (as amended), and must be preserved and protected at all times. The supply of electricity for these purposes is acknowledged to include all such ancillary services as are presently operating or as may be established from time to time in support of the primary objectives of the employer.



    (a) This contract remains in force for a period of years commencing the.............................. day of ....................................198... unless sooner terminated, altered, or amended according to the terms hereof or by mutual consent of the parties.

    (b) Commencing the first day of October, 1988, discussions shall be held between the parties with the intent of both parties that a further Contract of Service be signed on or before first November, 1988, to provide for service by the employee to the employer after that date.

    (c) If, on the expiry date of this Contract and hereinbefore mentioned, this Contract has not been terminated by the employer by reason of the breach thereof by the employee, and the parties have not entered into a former Contract of Service in an extension of, or in substitution for, this Contract, the employer shall forthwith employ the employee as and from that expiry date subject to, and in accordance with, the applicable award or industrial agreement referred to in Clause 3(b) herein in respect of the position and/or calling of the employee at the said expiry date, SAVE AND EXCEPT that, in the case of an employee who was, immediately prior to the signing of this Contract, either:

      (i) employed pursuant to a contract made or continued pursuant to Section 7 of the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985 (as amended), or

      (ii) not employed by the employer, and was a person described in Section 7(2) of the said Act as being eligible to be employed under such contract,

    the employer shall employ the employee as and from the expiry date of this Contract upon the terms and conditions as are prescribed on that date in Section 7(3) of the said Act, or any further or other provision amending or replacing same. For the purpose of calculating length of service and other entitlements under such award, agreement or contract, the employer shall deem all employment under this Contract to have been employment under the said award, agreement or contract in the same manner as if this Contract had not existed.


    (a) Subject to, and in accordance with, the provisions of the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985, and the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Act 1985, and in addition to the rights, duties and obligations conferred and imposed by the said Acts, the employee shall render such services as may be required by the employer from time to time, and more particularly shall:-

    Hours of Work

      (i) work a minimum thirty eight (38) ordinary hours per week over a ten (10) day fortnight, on a day work or shiftwork as applicable, and over a spread of hours as specified in the appropriate award, agreement or contract;

    Not to participate in a strike

      (ii) not either directly or indirectly participate in, incite, counsel or abet a strike as defined in Section 5 of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, 1961-1985, or any Act passed in substitution or amendment thereof;

    No union preference

      (iii) acknowledge that preference in employment in relation to union membership shall form no part of the requirements of the employer in considering the engagement, or continuation in employment, of employees;

    Shift work

      (iv) work shift work as, when, and where reasonably required by the employer;

    Work where required

      (v) carry out all duties pursuant to this Contract in any district or location as the employer may direct from time to time;

      (vi) live away from home at such locations and for such periods as may be reasonably required by the employer for the purpose of enabling the employee to properly and efficiently discharge all duties of the employee under this Contract;

    Dispute settling procedure

      (vii) refer or concur in the reference of any unresolved industrial dispute to the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Tribunal for determination, and together with the employer unreservedly accept the decision of that Tribunal;

    Lawful instructions

      (viii) abide by any lawful instruction of the employer and carry out all duties pursuant to this Contract as efficiently and expeditiously as possible, and, without derogating from the generality of the foregoing, carry out any form of work required by the employer in accordance with the calling of the employee, and in the event of any actual or threatened interruption to, or deprivation of, the supply of electricity, carry out any work required by the employer to provide, maintain or restore a supply of electricity, subject to the employee being suitably and properly qualified and trained.

    (b) Subject to the foregoing provisions, the engagement of the employee hereunder shall be on the same terms and conditions as are contained in the award or industrial agreement under which the employee would have been employed if this Contract had not existed, and any alteration, variation or amendment to such award or agreement by any competent tribunal shall be deemed to effect a corresponding alteration, variation or amendment to this Contract, provided only that in the event of any inconsistency between the terms of that award or agreement, and the terms of this Contract, then the terms of this Contract shall prevail to the extent of any such inconsistency. Such award or industrial agreement is hereinafter called 'the applicable Award'.

    (c) For the purposes of this Contract, the employee agrees and acknowledges that the rights, duties and obligations conferred or imposed upon employees in electricity callings by the provisions of the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985 and the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Act 1985, are expressly included as terms and conditions of this Contract, to the same effect as if those provisions of those Acts were expressly set forth herein. In the event that the said Acts or either of them are amended, or any Act is enacted in substitution therefor during the continuation of this Contract, this Contract shall be deemed to be amended accordingly.

4. IN CONSIDERATION of the foregoing and of this Contract, and subject to compliance by the employee with the terms of this Contract, the employer shall pay to the employee, in the first pay period of December each year for the duration of this Contract, a lump sum which is equivalent to seven and one-half percentum (712%,) of the annual gross earnings (excluding any sum paid under this clause) paid by the employer to the employee over the twelve months preceding the First day of November in each year, (which date is hereinafter called 'the assessment date' or over such proportion of twelve months as shall have been served under the Contract as at the assessment date, which payment shall be in addition to the wage or salary to which the employee shall be otherwise entitled under the Contract. In the event of the termination of this Contract by reason of the voluntary resignation or death of the employee less than twelve (12) months after the assessment date, a pro-rata payment shall be calculated accordingly, and paid to the employee or their personal representative upon such resignation or death as the case may be. For the purposes of this Clause, no amount shall be included in the gross annual earnings of the employee in respect of any monies paid to the employee by way of reimbursement of expenses incurred by the employee in the course of their employment hereunder.


In addition to the rights and obligations conferred and imposed by the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985 and the Electricity Authorities Industrial Clauses Act 1985, this Contract and the engagement of the employee may be terminated by the employer upon the giving of such notice (if any) as is prescribed in the applicable Award, upon the grounds that the employee has been guilty of:

    (a) serious misconduct in relation to their employment hereunder; and/or

    (b) conduct inconsistent with the express intent and terms of this Contract;

and no other grounds.

Upon such termination of this Contract by the employer:-

    (i) the employee shall forfeit all entitlement to payment of any part of the seven and one-half per centum (712%) lump sum referred to in clause 4 hereof, as may have accrued at the date of such termination; and

    (ii) subject to (i), all pecuniary entitlements of the employee shall be deemed to be such as would be payable if the employee had been employed at all material times under the applicable Award in lieu of this Contract.

The employee may terminate this Contract prior to the expiry thereof by way of resignation from the service of the employer in accordance with the provisions of the applicable award, whereupon both parties shall henceforth be released and discharged from all obligations, liabilities and entitlements whatsoever under this Contract accruing or arising after such termination date.


by the said

this day of , 198

in the presence of:

A Justice of the Peace

THE SEAL of THE SOUTH EAST QUEENSLAND ELECTRICITY BOARD was hereunto affixed pursuant to a resolution of the Board made on the day of

1985 by

WAYNE LLOYD GILBERT, General Manager, in the presence of

CECIL VINCENT WEBSTER, Secretary, both in the presence of:

A Justice of the Peace