Sharon Knight critical of government spend over ESTA industrial action

BALLARAT West MP Sharon Knight has criticised the state government for spending $100,000 in its bid to halt industrial action by Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) staff last year.

In a response to a question on notice from Ms Knight, Police and Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells confirmed law firm Minter Ellis had been engaged during a Fair Work Commission hearing in 2013.

Ms Knight asked the question in December last year and received the answer on Tuesday.

It is estimated about $100,000 was spent in the failed hearing, in which ESTA claimed staff were endangering the public by taking the industrial action.

The Fair Work Commission dismissed the claims in July last year, allowing the industrial action to continue.

Ms Knight said it was a waste of taxpayers’ money to have a six-figure sum spent on a failed attempt to end the industrial action.

She labelled the attempted government action as scare-mongering and a “publicity stunt”, in making out the protestors were putting the community at risk. “It’s a massive amount of money to spend on trying to stop people doing something when they were acting completely within their rights,” Ms Knight said.

“The dedicated and professional staff at the ESTA call centre had taken steps to ensure there was no threat to public safety. The Napthine government publicity stunt to attack workers who were acting within their legal rights cost Victorians $100,000.”

State government spokesperson Jess Jackson defended the action and said at the time there was an unacceptable risk to the safety and well-being of Victorians. 

“ESTA presented evidence to the Fair Work Commission that service levels had declined since the bans were implemented five months before that hearing,” Ms Jackson said. 

“In response, union representatives allowed ESTA to take measures to address performance issues that were causing concerns.

“As a result training bans were lifted to allow the introduction of improved ambulance call-taking software. These were both positive outcomes of the FWC hearing.”

patrick.nolan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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