On Jemena and the myth of corporate social responsibility

It’s around 8am on February 18. An overcast day in Melbourne that hints at autumn rather than late summer. The otherwise quiet morning is punctuated by the sounds of machinery. The really loud sounds of machinery. REALLY. LOUD.

Turns out I’ve woken to discover the fine folk at Jemena Ltd have performed an assessment of infrastructure in the suburb and taken it upon themselves to replace a couple of power poles in the street. Jemena is the assets business of private entity SGSP (Australia) Assets Pty Ltd – a 60/40 split between Chinese and Singaporean companies, which is contracted to provide electrical infrastructure services to many parts of Australia.

According to one of the staff members on site there’s more work planned for the suburb so this represents an ideal time to give Jemena a heads up on their communications – or lack thereof – which is a vital foundation of any business’ social responsibility.

Interestingly, when I tweeted about events of the day Jemena, in a reply tweet, asked me to contact them, however I tweeted back that I’d be writing this story and low and behold the next morning Josh from Jemena customer service called me instead, having obviously tracked down my business phone number on-line as it’s not mentioned on my Twitter account. This points to one of two things. 1). Jemena wants to provide excellent customer service, or, 2). They want to censor criticism of their activities. We’ll see, won’t we?

* * *

Anyway, back to the 18th. Jemena trucks, those from XPower, who were providing water boring services for the installation, and those of Construct Traffic, a traffic management firm, were all assembled on site. All of the vehicles and proposed work have meant that a road and footpath closure is in place. Given the pole installation is right beside my driveway that’s been blocked I’m also house-bound for a certain length of time. The phone and internet connection has been cut, but thankfully the power’s still on. For how long I know not.

Why not? You’d think that an operation which involves shutting the street, road and footpath closures, at least eight vehicles of all shapes and sizes and a dozen workers from three different companies engaged in hole boring, electrical safety operations, pole installation and traffic management would have necessitated some sort of notice to affected residences and/or businesses. Well, according to a customer service staff member that’s simply not the case. Sharon from Jemena advised that because there was no interruption to power planned for the day that Jemena didn’t need to inform anyone of its actions.

Hmm… Have a read of that paragraph above and see if it passes the ‘pub test’, which is all the rage in political circles these days. The ‘pub test’ in case you haven’t heard the term is in fact a euphemism for the age-old query: “Does this sound like bullshit to you?” Otherwise known as “Yeah right, pull the other one…”

So let’s look at the events of the 18th. No notice means someone could have parked their car right beside the pole and left it for the day, perhaps going off to work by public transport instead. This would have meant all assembled sitting around scratching their collective or individual behinds unable to complete the planned works. Does that sound like a way to undertake such an expensive operation? I’m far from expert in the planning and roll-out of infrastructure projects, but I’d have thought that ensuring unencumbered access to a worksite rather than relying on luck would be kind of a priority. Mind you, if access to the work site was blocked for some reason I’m sure the cost for these things are borne by the end user anyway.

So, no notice means that – according to Sharon – I have to call the telephone company (Optus in my case) to ascertain when services will resume. And I have to do this at my cost in both time and money with Sharon insisting that telecommunications was absolutely no concern of Jemena’s, despite the fact that they were clearly the lead agency engaged in the works.

So, no notice means unscheduled disruption to businesses such as mine – with the cost burden of missed meetings and deadlines due to being able to transmit data was borne by… me. Yes, you’re getting the hang of where this is going aren’t you.

So, no notice means there is no corporate responsibility. There’s no care for the end user. No engagement with the community in terms of planning and notifications. No understanding how a simple card in the mail or even a knock on the door would have absolutely remedied all of this. But that would mean corporations see end users as something more than cash cows or an inconvenience. And that’s simply something the modern corporation is incapable of doing given their number one and only priority is the generation of profit above all else.

And while we’re on the issue of corporate responsibility, I cannot, in all seriousness, believe that staff from all three companies on site were not using visible hearing protection when the hole boring part of the operation was underway. The entire house shook with the thumping sound of the pump and I was indoors and 15m away at the time. Still, I guess Jemena will have to wear the costs of at least that for their staff. Perhaps.

* * *

And the best bit, because the job is only half done (the old pole is still there and the lower powerlines are still connected to it) I get to lose power while the lines are moved to the new pole. We’ll probably also lose phone and internet again so the old pole can be removed. The road and driveway will be blocked again too. But, with any luck we’ll at least get notice of the power outage given that that apparently falls within Jemena’s customer charter, so I’ll have notification of the rest of the associated works as a result. It’s just a shame that Jemena can’t see the big picture – focused as they are on doing the bare minimum for the end user to maximize profits; that end user being the electricity distributor rather than the people affected by their actions.

The sad part of all of this is that you can swap the Jemena name with the name of any number of other multi-nationals and the story would read the same. In this day and age there’s no lateral thinking, no care and consideration for the impact corporations have on people, and absolutely zero liability taken for a failure to fulfill even the basics of social responsibility.


EDIT: A response from Jemena, followed by my response. To all of the people who emailed, I’ll keep this up-to-date so you can see what corporations really think of their commitment to their clients.


Dear Mr Salinger

I refer to your recent enquiry regarding work that was carried out in your street by our contractors. Firstly, I would like to apologise for any inconvenience this matter has caused. I attempted to call you on the number provided to me but I have been unsuccessful in reaching you.

I am disappointed in our failure to notify you of the work that was to be carried out and in the responses that you have received to date. From time to time it is necessary to carry out maintenance on our network and we try to do this with the least amount of impact on customers as possible.

We value feedback from customers which we use to improve our processes to provide the best possible experience. Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention. We are reviewing our processes and I hope he next time that you deal with us our service will have improved to meet your expectations.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss this further.

Kind Regards

Steve Dooley
Customer Relations Manager
[Redacted] Sydney Olympic Park, NSW 2127
T [Redacted] | M [Redacted]
[Redacted]@jemena.com.au | www.jemena.com.au


EMAIL SENT TO JEMENA 11 March, 10.47am

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your response.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t give a phone number to Jemena so that may be why you had trouble reaching me. That said, Josh from your organisation managed to respond to my initial tweet by stalking my business presence online and calling me on the number listed there. I do think that’s a little ‘corporate Big Brother’ but hey, it’s your business how you treat customers not mine. So, I’m happy to check my call logs and see if I missed a call from you. That’s obviously an exceptionally simple thing to achieve in today’s era of smart phones. So what day and time did you call? You’ll have that in your system too so I’ll follow up as to the failure in the communications process and we’ll at least get that sorted so we can be sure that’s not another failure of Jemena’s client communications processes.

Unfortunately your apology – whilst heartfelt I’m sure – doesn’t hold water. In fact it looks like you didn’t read my report on the matter: http://www.bretsalinger.com.au/jemena-social-responsibility/

Feel free to have a read of it and get back to me with a detailed response on where you went wrong and what your organisation will do in future to try to prevent this from happening, because Jemena certainly failed spectacularly in this regard: “ From time to time it is necessary to carry out maintenance on our network and we try to do this with the least amount of impact on customers as possible.”

In the meantime, when can I expect the works to be scheduled that will complete the half-done installation of the new pole. As much notice as possible would be handy given I’m trying to manage my business’ client relationships too.


Bret Salinger

Jemena - half done
Jemena – a job half done
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