Unions raise Hazelwood job concerns

Bryce Eishold

Unions fear qualified Latrobe Valley workers trained in asbestos removal and scaffolding will not be given priority employment during the demolition of Hazelwood Power Station.

On Friday, union officials from the CFMEU and Gippsland Trades and Labour Council said they would not rule out a series of protests at Hazelwood if workers from outside the region were given priority over local, qualified tradespeople.

While the demolition contract is yet to be signed, Hazelwood owner ENGIE said the tender process encouraged the “engagement of local sub-contractors who have the specialist skills and experience to undertake the specialised work”.

But CFMEU Mining and Energy Division state secretary Geoff Dyke said ENGIE had “divorced themselves” of the responsibility after the closure of Hazelwood Power Station and had ignored the toll it had taken on local jobs.

“What it says to me is that ENGIE don’t really care about being a responsible corporate citizen,” Mr Dyke said.

“There’s plenty of people in the Latrobe Valley who are trained and capable of performing scaffolding and asbestos removal and we want these people prioritised.

“We would like those contracts to specify that local labour will be used wherever possible. Because my concern … is that Melbourne companies will win those contracts and all the labour will come from Melbourne.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary Steve Dodd said more than 50 ex-power station workers had been trained in asbestos removal and “they’d be [the]right people for the job”.

“In this region we have a skilled workforce who are ex-power industry workers and we’ll certainly be talking to the contractor to utilise these guys before the demolition goes ahead,” Mr Dodd said.

“If local workers are not selected, I can guarantee that the unions won’t be sitting on their hands watching work go to people outside the region.

“We are not saying people from outside the region can’t work in the Valley, but it’s a bit rich if we have suitably qualified people in this area and not pick them.”

Mr Dodd said more than 50 people had obtained their class A specialist removal qualification since the closure of Hazelwood which included a five-day intensive course delivered by the CFMEU.

“For ENGIE to maintain that we don’t have the qualified people is outrageous. They are not properly informed and we’ve been doing that training ever since ENGIE shut down the power station,” Mr Dodd said.

“We expect the companies to do the right thing and support the local community.

“It’s very important for this to happen, not only for the community, but these guys. We don’t train these guys just so they have a ticket. We train them because we believe there’s upcoming work at Hazelwood Power Station.”

Mr Dyke added the CFMEU and other unions would be prepared to protest if local workers weren’t selected to “put pressure on the government and the companies to do the right thing”.

In a statement, an ENGIE spokeswoman said contract negotiations with the preferred demolition tenderer were ongoing, however, the signing of the agreement was imminent.

“The tender process encourages engagement of local sub-contractors who have the specialist skills and experience to undertake the specialised work associated with this large-scale demolition project, ensuring the adherence to our stringent safety and environmental standards,” the spokeswoman said.

“ENGIE continues to employ and engage local labour and suppliers in the delivery of the Hazelwood Rehabilitation Project.”

Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing backed the unions’ calls for local workers to be used “wherever possible”.

“ENGIE has previously committed to using locally-sourced workforces wherever possible and I would expect them to uphold this commitment,” Ms Shing said.

“We’ve seen what has happened in the past when non-local companies and workers have gotten involved in demolition activities on sites containing asbestos and, to be absolutely clear, we can’t afford for any risk to public safety to occur particularly at a time when we, as a government, are working so hard improve the way that asbestos is identified, contained or removed via the Latrobe Valley Asbestos Task Force.”