By Luke Voogt
Barwon Water has defended spending $1.2 million to establish an in-house business for maintenance services after outsourcing the work to a Perth company four years ago.
The water authority contracted Programmed Facility Management to conduct maintenance services in 2014 despite staff and union protests.
In late 2013 Australian Services Union organiser Luke Cherry said the decision affected 60 workers.
He described the initiative as “privatisation by stealth”.
But last year Barwon Water “invested” $1.2 million on establishing subsidiary Barwon Asset Solutions to take the services back.
The outsourcing was part of the previous state coalition government’s “agenda“, Mr Cherry said.
The outsourcing achieved at best a “sliver of savings” and at worst a loss, he said.
“We told them that they shouldn’t have (outsourced the services) over and over again.
“If they wanted to make the program cheaper to run there were ways to keep it in-house.
“Our line to them was that it was a really financially bad call.“
The workers who transferred to Programmed Facility Management in 2013 maintained their original enterprise bargaining agreement from Barwon Water.
But the Perth company quickly renegotiated the due-to-expire agreement with the workers and “whittled away” their conditions, Mr Cherry said.
“They pushed pretty hard to cut leave entitlements.“
Mr Cherry said Barwon Asset Solutions workers would likely have similar pay to Barwon Water employees but doubted they would have the same entitlements under public service protections.
Workers could be on lower pay grades working for the subsidiary than they would be under the direct employment of Barwon Water, he added.
But Barwon Water had worked with unions to establish appropriate working conditions for the subsidiary’s employees, including wage parity, according to managing director Tracey Slatter.
Ms Slatter defended the $1.2 million investment in the “new model”, which she said was the most efficient way of achieving savings for customers.
“We expect to recoup that investment in 2.5 years through future expansion and growth.
“The company will then generate ongoing profit that will help us continue to keep our customers’ bills down.
“These are benefits that could not be achieved through our former outsourced model established in 2014 and in-house model prior to 2014.
“Establishing Barwon Asset Solutions is a great outcome for Geelong customers.“