The other side of the coin

A Hazelwood mine supervisor has shed light on the “sombre” mood at the power plant just eight weeks out from its closure.

Chris Henkel, a supervisor for mine maintenance and construction contractor Fluor, told The Express of the hidden struggles of the plant’s workers, most of who will be out of work come the end of March.

Family conflicts, financial uncertainty and emotional turmoil have stemmed from the closure announcement, Mr Henkel said, all heightened by public perception workers will walk away with “big, fat packages”.

“It’s not like that for contractors, contractors are much more in the real world when it comes to all this,” Mr Henkel said.

“Most of the guys I work with will be virtually leaving with the tools they walked in with and very little else.”

As the plant “steams full steam ahead” into closure, Mr Henkel has become a supportive ear for his fellow contractors.

“A part of my job as a supervisor is looking after the plant, but it’s turning to maybe looking after people more,” Mr Henkel said.

“A lot of the guys out there are finding it really hard and it’s hard to gauge with guys (how they’re feeling) because there’s really no good outcome.”

He has been working hard to give a glimmer of hope to his colleagues, with most having no clear plan post-Hazelwood.

But Mr Henkel said he was finding it hard to uncover the positives.

He said there was a lack of suitable job opportunities and the options of Centrelink or reskilling into growth areas such as hospitality and aged care was less than appealing for many.

“I could train every day for the next three years, but if there is no job for me to go into, what am I training for?” Mr Henkel said.

“(Hospitality and aged care) may be applicable for some of the guys, but for a lot of us, it’s not. We’re not really given a clear path to go down.”

Mr Henkel said for those who had some sort of plan, it didn’t involve staying in the Latrobe Valley; the jobs were elsewhere.

“But we don’t want to have to pull our kids out of school or our families away from their loved ones,” he said.

“Most will say they don’t want to go… but they’ll have to go, they’ll have no choice in the matter.”

He expects the “ripple effect” from the closure will be quite large and hates to think what will become of the Valley come 31 March.

“I think it will take 12 months after closure for us to fully understand the effects it will have, but without any other infrastructure put in place, without the creation of jobs, it’s going to be the demise of the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Henkel said.