Collateral damage

Latrobe Valley’s already strained employment landscape has been dealt a crippling blow, after industrial action at Yallourn power station put a 12-month delay on at least 600 job opportunities during an ongoing construction downturn.

A major generator shutdown at the station, maintenance on which was due to begin in earnest on Friday, has been pushed back 12 months by operator EnergyAustralia, to avoid project delays and cost blowouts at the hand of the ongoing threat of industrial action, amid ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the workforce’s majority representative union, has come under widespread fire for the delay, after opting to continue with industrial action despite the knowledge doing so would jeopardise the outage.

The delay has seen teams of more than 30 scaffolders employed by Lend Lease, who had been prepping the site for maintenance since January, laid off.

The outage would have translated to 220,000 man hours, and employed an additional 130 Silcar contractors, plus additional contractors from Traralgon Industries, Hydro Australia and ALS.

The move to delay the outage came six weeks ago after requested the five worker representative unions, who as a collective negotiation team was known as a Single Bargaining Unit, undertake a moratorium on industrial action for the outage period to ensure maintenance could go ahead without disruption.

While four of five unions – the Electrical Trade Union, Australian Workers’ Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and the Australian Services Union – were supportive of the moratorium, the CFMEU rejected the offer, before pushing ahead with industrial action protected by Fair Work Australia. 

ETU negotiator Peter Mooney said he respected the CFMEU’s right to undertake industrial action, however the collateral damage inflicted on the wider Valley workforce was “huge”. 

“That shut was the only work in this half of the year for people in this region – there’s no other real work of that scale which would’ve kept people in the area,” Mr Mooney said. 

“There’s no doubt many of them will need to look for work interstate, there just simply isn’t work in Victoria at the moment, even in Melbourne its quiet – so much of the building game hasn’t gotten off the ground since the Global Financial Crisis.

“But this doesn’t affect just the 600 workers on the ground – there’s the external suppliers and workshops and who knows how many extra jobs that outage would’ve created in the area.” 

AMWU organiser Steve Dodd said the flow-on effects of the outage delay would be devastating for the Latrobe Valley’s working families. 

“This is a really big deal – a lot of our members count on these shuts to live, literally hundreds of blokes were counting on this going ahead,” Mr Dodd said.

Numerous calls by The Express to power industry stakeholders revealed widespread feelings of animosity towards the CFMEU, with some union representatives and contractors labelling the moratorium rejection as “selfish and unfair” , with another labelling it a “complete strategic blunder”.

One prominent union source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the outage delay was solely on the CFMEU’s hands, and sided with EnergyAustralia’s decision to delay the outage. 

“If I was (EnergyAustralia) I would’ve done the same thing – they would’ve got the s**t kicked out of them by the CFMEU (through industrial action) if the outage had have been started,” he said. 

Attempts to contact lead CFMEU negotiator Greg Hardy were unsuccessful before going to print.