Plans to redeploy

Power stations could once again collaborate in ways similar to the former State Electricity Commission of Victoria did under a bold plan to redeploy redundant Hazelwood workers.

The Express can confirm former MP Simon Crean has been appointed by the Victorian Government to act as a facilitator between unions and employers of the Latrobe Valley’s four power station generators and mines.

The former Federal Minister for Regional Development met with unions and the power industry last week to investigate an early retirement and worker transfer scheme.

The visit follows French energy giant Engie announcing it would close Hazelwood power station and mine on 31 March next year – resulting in the loss of 750 jobs.

“This is about exploring all practical options to help find jobs and new opportunities for Hazelwood workers,” Industry and Employment Minister Wade Noonan said.

“We are doing everything we can to give Hazelwood workers the support they need following Engie’s decision.”

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s ‘A Just Transition’ plan outlined the pooled redundancy scheme prior to the company’s closure announcement.

It suggests a plan to encourage older workers at newer power stations to retire early to make way for younger workers that could redeploy into their positions.

“For older workers they could retire early and remain living in the Latrobe Valley to maintain the population and its economic activity,” CFMEU Victorian district mining and energy union secretary Geoff Dyke said.

The plan also acknowledges younger redeployed workers could be trained more quickly and at a lower cost than other replacement workers.

RMIT international employment relations professor Peter Fairbrother said private operators working together to redeploy a workforce was only ‘novel’ in Australia.

He explained ‘pooled redeployment’ was common practice internationally pointing to the coal and steel industry in France and Germany, where restructuring adjustments have occurred in the past 30 to 40 years.

“They built in plans that anticipated closure, frankly we can do it here,” Dr Fairbrother said.

“We simply didn’t plan and we’re regulation averse in Australia.”

The interim director of social change at the Melbourne-based university said pooled redeployment may require government support and the power stations to jointly organise.

A CFMEU survey of 1000 power industry workers showed the majority of Hazelwood employees are in their 50s and before the retirement age.

Of the 155 Hazelwood Power Station members surveyed close to 40 were between the age of 50 and 55.

More than 30 Morwell mine workers are in the 55 to 59 bracket.

The older age bracket compares to more varied age profiles at Engie’s Loy Yang B, AGL’s Loy Yang A and Energy Australia’s Yallourn station and mines, with larger groups in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

“The difficultly lies in that (it’s no longer) a state-run electricity authority, one industry responsible for all generators,” Dr Fairbrother said.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary Steve Dodd said the union had endorsed the CFMEU plan.

“If this was still the SECV, this would be a ‘no brainer’,” Mr Dodd said.

Mr Dodd said continued reports in the media that Hazelwood workers would receive “a sugar bag of money” with an average $330,000 package were simply not true.

“There may be a small amount of workers that will be made redundant and get that pay-out, but for continuous contractors and others, they’re not getting that,” he said.

The union stalwart said unions were also working to strike an agreement with Engie to ensure Hazelwood workers would be contracted with the decommissioning and demolition of the power station and rehabilitation of the Morwell mine.

Mr Dodd said the Hazelwood closure was the worst possible scenario, with a tight time frame of five months to find a redundancy redeployment scheme.

“We want an agreement on the demolition of the power station and the rehabilitation of the mine and we want as many as the current Hazelwood employees in all categories if they’re not working to be the first choice,” he said.