Turmoil affects future investment

Ongoing industrial turmoil at Yallourn power station could jeopardise Latrobe Valley’s ability to attract future investment, according to a Gippsland-based lobby group.

Committee for Gippsland chief executive Mary Aldred said the committee was “disturbed” by concerns, voiced by businesses and industry stakeholders, the high-profile industrial dispute was hurting the region’s reputation.

Yallourn’s 75 station operators, represented by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, will endure the one month anniversary of an ongoing site lockout on Sunday, imposed by owner operator EnergyAustralia on 21 June, as enterprise bargaining negotiations enter 12 months.

While the parties remain unwilling to move on key conditions within the proposed EA, Ms Aldred said the stoush was eroding Gippsland’s status as a secure and attractive place to invest in large-scale projects.

“The current workplace relations dispute between unions and EnergyAustralia does not promote the Latrobe Valley as an attractive place to invest in future projects like these,” Ms Aldred said.

“C4G has already received widespread feedback from its members and stakeholders to this effect… small businesses, tourism operators and manufacturing companies are all saying its having quite a broad impact on the region already. “From mining to manufacturing, Gippsland’s economic viability depends on its continuing ability to attract and retain large scale employment.”

Ms Aldred’s comments echoed concerns previously voiced by EnergyAustralia, which stated it could not agree to “restrictive work practices” being sought by operators, as it would disadvantage its footing in a highly competitive energy market, which had seen a nationally seven per cent drop in demand.

“While C4G would like to see the dispute resolved as quickly as possible, it is also important for the unions involved in the action to understand that there is a limit to the amount of financial strain any business, including electricity generators, can shoulder, before they need to reconsider the long-term value and viability of continuing to operate,” she said.

However Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union energy and mining Victorian president Luke van der Meulen questioned C4G’s consultative process, and accused them of being an industry spokesperson with clear vested interests.

“If they are supposedly representing all of Gippsland’s groups, then it would be nice if they could talk to the workers and the union, before they paint a picture that it’s all the union’s fault,” Mr van der Meulen said.

“EnergyAustralia took this action to lock out their workforce, and C4G are suggesting we are the ones responsible for all of this?

“We are trying to get an agreement in place that reflects this overarching investment uncertainty which sits over the Valley for a wide range of reasons; that’s why we want better consultative clauses because there could be some big changes on the horizon.”

The Express understands the CFMEU is waiting for EnergyAustralia to responded to a draft EA proposal, ahead of another negotiation session at Fair Work Australia on Tuesday.

Maintenance unions, which represent workers also covered by the elusive EA, are still moving to organise a mass member meeting to seek their collective direction in response to the ongoing dispute.