Professional engineers at ACT Electricity and Water have imposed bans on Canberra’s water supply yesterday in protest a being brought under what they call the bureaucracy of the Public Sector Management Bill.

The bans will restrict the total output of treated water, ban work on the city’s 45 city service reservoirs (the big round tanks on the hills), prevent non-urgent professional advice to ACT Government and generally work to rules.

The engineers are members of the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia.

APESMA’s ACT branch president, Col Miller, said it is very rare for professional engineers to impose bans and it shows the depth of feeling on the issue.

The bans would not affect health, safety or damage assets, but they would affect revenue because the bans would affect the city reservoirs which required winter maintenance. This would now have to be made up later with overtime.

The Minister for Urban Services, David Lamont, said he viewed the bans with concern and said they were unwarranted.

The engineers are concerned that the new separate ACT Government Service scheduled for July 1 will bring ACTEW under the general public service regime and not permit independent workplace and other reform which will enable ACTEW to compete with gas and met other industry pressures. Unless these competitive pressures are met as they arise, they argue, in the long term they will build up and cause a painful bloodletting later.

However, Mr Lamont said, “We have addressed the issued to allow ACTEW to operate as it did before. Under the new arrangements the ACTEW board will operate as a chief executive officer which gives it the authority of the office of public sector management.

“”ACTEW is an extremely capable organisation and it will have the capacity to operate with the new system and achieve the same good results as it has been doing.”

The engineers’ argument was not about service and capacity to perform, he said. It was a philosophical position.

“”The question is just how long is the arm in arm’s length control,” he said. “”I can only encourage them to continue the reform agenda under the new arrangements and they will be able to do that.”

APESMA has about 800 members in the ACT, about 90 of whom are in ACTEW and those 90 are about 95 per cent of ACTEW’s professional engineers. APESMA’s position has been supported by the Trades and Labor Council and its general view of the ACT Public Sector Management Bill has had at least informal support from ACTEW management.

The argument for an independent structure has been that employment and promotion procedures in the public service are too cumbersome for a business operation and that new enterprise bargaining deals would be scrutinised by a Treasury concerned about service-wide precedents.

The Government, however, argues that all ACT public-sector employees are entitled to basic standards for leave, merit protection, gender and other equity arrangements and industrial democracy and should be subject to the same ethos and discipline arrangements as other public-sector employees.

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