SMART Meters and the Implications for Employment

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2011 Energy Service Group Conference
25 February 2011

Conference notes that over the next few years the Energy Retailers will be pushing ahead with a national roll out of SMART meter installations. This will be a massive logistical exercise involving many thousands of workers and the probable extensive use of contract labour.

Conference endorses UNISON’s position on SMART meters that seeks to emphasise the importance of maintaining high levels of quality during the installation programme including the proper training of workers, the observance of agreed industry wide technical standards including health and safety and a good level of customer service. It will be important for OFGEM and the Energy Retailing Companies to ensure that all contractors and sub contractors used to assist in the installation programme are obliged to only use fully trained and competent employees and that any companies using a franchise model of labour utilization should be avoided. To that end UNISON believes that OFGEM should be empowered to enforce the standardization of operating procedures to ensure a consistency of standards throughout the industry.

Conference recognizes that as a consequence of SMART meters becoming commonplace the work of customer services staff is bound to be impacted both in terms of job content and workforce size.

Conference congratulates UNISON East Midlands Region on successfully representing members working as meter readers who found themselves being dismissed by ‘Meter U Limited’ following a TUPE transfer from Scottish Power to Siemens who had transferred them immediately to ‘Meter U Limited’. This company refuses to directly employ their workers and instead operates on a franchise basis where each worker is, in effect, self employed. At an Employment Tribunal held in January 2011 UNISON secured a decision that proved that the members had been unfairly dismissed.

Conference calls on branches to raise the issue of SMART meters and their implications for installation, maintenance and customer services staff with their employers with a view to securing their agreement:

i) To build up an internal workforce for SMART meter installation and maintenance, fully trained and resourced.

ii) To re-train existing employees including meter readers and customer services staff.

iii) To stop the use of contractors or sub contractors that exploit workers by using franchising to avoid their obligations to workers as employees.