Cuts to go ahead

Last-ditch attempts by power industry unions to resist significant maintenance cutbacks at Hazelwood Power Station have to come to a “depressing” end, with the finer details of a retrenchment program agreed upon.

A “sombre” mood overshadowed a public rally of more than 100 workers outside Hazelwood’s front gates on Tuesday, where Fluor contractors heard 24 positions would be retrenched on 26 April.

The announcement comes after the 140-strong casual and full time contractor workforce resorted to industrial action, walking off the job last Friday afternoon in an attempt to bolster its case in retrenchment discussions between Fluor, Hazelwood owner operator GDF-Suez and unions.

Subsequent talks on Monday led Fluor to make a number of small concessions in its cutback regime, which unions then “very reluctantly” endorsed.

Among the concessions, Fluor management agreed to push back the retrenchment date to 26 April, at the conclusion of a current generator maintenance outage, and reduce the amount of targeted ‘craft’ positions to 24, down from 29.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Steve Dodd said while unions were able to win a small departure package for yet-to-be-selected retrenchees, it was not enough to entice any workers to leave voluntarily.

“This doesn’t leave the workers with any sort of respect at all; at the meeting (on Tuesday) our members were pretty angry – they were unified as a group but very angry about the position the company had put them in,” Mr Dodd said.

Speaking out in opposition to the retrenchment program, Fluor maintenance contractor John Webb said shock and disappointment were the biggest emotions circulating among the workforce in response to the decision.

“Hazelwood have made it clear the fact they are suffering financially and in that context us contractors are a soft target – it is much easier for them to shed contractor jobs,” Mr Webb said.

“But with no real jobs for us in the area – all you have to do is look across the industry and outside the area – we are talking about some highly skilled people here that will soon be fighting for that same work that’s not really there.”

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union construction division’s Toby Thornton said Fluor’s move, which came in response to a request from GDF-Suez to “streamline” operations amid financial pressure, was “disgraceful”.

“So they are now wanting us to have a more reactive input into maintenance, and only conducting it on plant as an absolute necessity, moving away from routine preventative maintenance,” Mr Thornton said.