Worker transfer push

Bryce Eishold

Unions are pressuring the state government to extend the worker transfer scheme by at least 12 months amid concerns ex-Hazelwood workers have been unable to find work.

The scheme, an agreement between the government, Latrobe Valley generators and unions aimed to employ 150 former Hazelwood workers by March 31, 2019.

However, the target will not be met by the end of the month, unions say, as less than 90 ex-Hazelwood workers have been re-employed under the scheme.

The CFMEU and Gippsland Trades and Labour Council also claim power station operators of Loy Yang A and Yallourn are not accepting as many early retirements as they should.

However, AGL Loy Yang says there has been few applications from former Hazelwood workers recently and EnergyAustralia says it’s committed to the scheme.

The state government created the $20 million Latrobe Valley Worker Transfer Scheme in the wake of Hazelwood Power Station’s closure in March 2017 to offer early retirements to power station workers at other Latrobe Valley generators.

Ex-Hazelwood workers would then be offered jobs at those three stations with a financial incentive for the generators to employ them.

CFMEU mining and energy division Victorian branch secretary Geoff Dyke criticised power station operators, including EnergyAustralia and AGL, for failing to make the most of the opportunity.

Both the CFMEU and GTLC have been in discussions with the state government about extending the worker transfer scheme which expires in May for at least another year.

The extension would also require the approval of the Australian Taxation Office.

“If the government can keep the scheme open, we’d like the generators to put in a bit more effort to help the community,” Mr Dyke told The Express.

Since the scheme was introduced, 47 ex-Hazelwood workers have been employed at AGL’s Loy Yang A, while EnergyAustralia has offered jobs to 24 people at Yallourn.

Alinta-owned Loy Yang B has employed 18 workers.

“We don’t believe that EnergyAustralia and AGL have put enough effort into employing ex-Hazelwood workers and re-employing those workers who are out of work,” Mr Dyke, who works as an operator technician at Loy Yang B, said.

“We had a memorandum of understanding with Yallourn [EnergyAustralia] when they did their EBA about 18 months ago to take on at least 40 ex-Hazelwood people. They’ve taken on less than half of what they’ve promised.

“AGL have put on about 90 workers, only half of them have been ex-Hazelwood workers in the last two years. Given ex-Hazelwood workers are already skilled workers you’d expect the ratio to be a lot higher.”

He said Loy Yang B, originally operatored by Hazelwood owner ENGIE when the scheme was introduced, had “released all the people that expressed an interest in early retirements”.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary Steve Dodd said there were a number of benefits to extending the transfer scheme for an additional 12 months.

“I think it might have been too early for some workers to retire, or even consider it, but the longer the scheme is open no doubt some people will consider their position,” Mr Dodd said.

In a statement, AGL Loy Yang general management Nigel Browne said there had been “significantly lower numbers” of Hazelwood workers applying for jobs in recent times.

“We have almost met that target with 47 former Hazelwood workers taking up employment. We have taken on the most workers of any company signed up to this program,” Mr Browne said.

“We also use former Hazelwood workers through our contract work and during maintenance programs such as our recent unit four major outage.”

An EnergyAustralia spokesman said since May 2017, 24 workers of 42 employed had been ex-Hazelwood employees.

“And we will continue to fill roles at Yallourn power station and mine as more people take up early retirement,” the spokesman said.

“Our commitment under the [scheme] is to reach an outcome that creates secure, well-paid jobs which are open to Latrobe Valley locals, is fair to our existing employees and does not add significant cost for customers – families and businesses – in Victoria.”

A spokeswoman for the state government said the government was working with power operators and unions to determine the longevity of the scheme.