Ongoing trend of neglect

A MOVE to retrench 37 Hazelwood power station contractors has been met with widespread alarm from unions, who fear it will further entrench a “disturbing and ongoing trend” of maintenance cutbacks in the power industry.

The shock news was delivered to employees of Hazelwood’s sole maintenance contractor Fluor Global Services on Tuesday afternoon, after pressure from station owner GDF-Suez to cut service delivery costs.

In a memorandum sent to Fluor employees, workers were informed the company was seeking to retrench nine staff positions and 29 ‘craft’ roles, which will encompass boilermakers, fitters, and other hands-on trade roles.

“It is important that Fluor take steps to achieve (Hazelwood’s needs) especially when GDF Suez is under pressure to reduce business costs and (our) Hazelwood contract is up for tender later this year,” the memorandum read.

However, staff only have until next Tuesday to apply for Voluntary Departure Packages, with craft employees given a further week, after which Fluor will seek to administer retrenchments based on skills, capability and performance.

Staff retrenchments are set to commence from 3 April, with craft retrenchments beginning from 10 April.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker said while he was extremely disappointed, he was unsurprised by the move, which was in line with a track record of “neglectful” attitudes towards maintenance at Hazelwood and other Latrobe Valley power stations.

“One morning we will wake up where one of these power stations will completely fail and there will be blackouts; it’s clear they will keep cutting back until they can walk away – we just need to hope no one will get killed in the process,” Mr Parker said.

“Hazelwood is so old; it’s just like if a farmer’s got a 1954 car – he will keep on patching up the car but without the long term in mind; they see Hazelwood as a paddock bomb and just keep on patching it when they have to.”

Fluor management met with worker unions yesterday as part of consultation regarding the retrenchments, which received mixed responses from delegates.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s Steve Dodds said after yesterday’s meeting, he held “massive concerns” about the proposed retrenchments.

“We are really struggling to believe this move; we think there is still more than enough work out there for these guys to perform, but more concerning is the reality that there will be less maintenance at the power station because of this,” Mr Dodd said.

He said there was a number of questions Fluor management could not answer, adding it was unclear how the company believed it could effectively manage three generation unit shuts scheduled for maintenance before the end of the financial year.

While Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union construction division’s Toby Thornton said he hoped upcoming discussions with Fluor and GDF-Suez would help workers and unions understand the logic behind the decision, he described the move as a “kick in the guts” for the Latrobe Valley.

“All of the Fluor employees are local; if you get rid of 29 jobs, to really get the flow on effect (on the Valley), you times that by three, so that’s another 90 jobs right there,” Mr Thornton said, referring to the secondary jobs created through the economy by the power industry.

In a statement to the media, GDF-Suez said it was reviewing the cost of its power station maintenance program to improve its competitiveness in the National Energy Market.

“As a result, we have worked closely with our contractor Fluor in recent months to identify potential efficiencies while ensuring effective ongoing maintenance of all power station plant,” the statement read.

A senior Fluor representative declined to comment on the redundancies.