Moves to privatise one of Latrobe Valley’s single biggest employers by the Abbott Government have been met with a fierce campaign to prevent hundreds of potential job losses in Traralgon.
A plan to sell off the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s registry arm, which employs some 300 people in Traralgon, took a step closer to reality after the Federal Budget detailed a ‘competitive tender process’ to test for potential buyers.
Staff at ASIC’s Traralgon office have been told the $12.6 million tender process would be undertaken over the next 12 to 18 months, with any potential separation from ASIC likely to fall in late-2018.
News of the tender process sparked a strong response from Latrobe City Council last week, announcing plans to implement a “wide-ranging” campaign to retain ASIC’s services and associated jobs in the region.
“In the current economic climate, the loss of this number of jobs could result in many community members being forced to leave the region to find alternative employment,” Latrobe City mayor Dale Harriman said.
Cr Harriman said Latrobe City would call for the tendering decision’s reversal, before requesting any tender requirements dictate ASIC’s private operation continue in Traralgon and use the local workforce.
The campaign will also include rallying support from key local stakeholders, business groups and peak bodies, and politicians at state and federal levels, ahead of a campaign to Canberra next month.
“This is an issue on which we need firm support and we need to enlist as many influencers as we can,” Cr Harriman said.
However, Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, took a less alarmist view to the tender after meeting with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann last week on the issue, arguing it was “premature” to be talking about job losses.
“It has been put to me in those discussions that if the privatisation goes ahead there is the very real prospect of expanded operations and increased employment opportunities in the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Chester said.
“I’m not in a position to pre-empt the competitive tender process but I give an undertaking to do everything in my power to protect local jobs and seek increased employment opportunities for local residents.”
Mr Chester said he would seek further assurances regarding ongoing employment from the minister on behalf of workers and their families.
However, Traralgon Chamber of Commerce president Darren Howe called for fiercer lobbying from Mr Chester on the issue.
“They are not going to keep (ASIC) in Traralgon on hand shake and a nod and wink, these big companies which are potentially buyers are going to go with the cheapest way to operate the business,” Mr Howe said.
“We are going to need much stronger advocacy than that. Keeping here is not going to be high on their list of priorities.”
Meanwhile, the Community and Public Sector Union held a workplace meeting onsite on Thursday, after which national president Alistair Waters said staff were deeply concerned for their jobs.
“Experience has shown that all too often, privatisation leads to job losses and a decline in service standards,” Mr Waters said.
“That is why we are deeply opposed to this proposal as this can only be bad news for Traralgon, where these jobs are valued.”
An employee within the Traralgon office said the workplace mood had been mixed since the tender announcement, noting longer term staff of 10 to 20 years were the most concerned.
“The short term staff (mostly non ongoing with contracts due to expire 30 June) are more concerned about next year’s budget cuts too and if they will have a job past 30 June,” the employee said.
Staff have been told any negotiation with a new private sector provider would include discussion about employment in the region.