A LABOR federal government would co-opt other energy generators to find work for those retrenched when big coal-fired power stations such as Liddell close down, Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy has told the Newcastle Herald.
The “just transitions” policy was due to be mentioned as part of opposition leader Bill Shorten’s energy policy speech on Thursday but the details have been fleshed by Mr Conroy, who is Labor’s spokesperson on just transition and clean energy.
Mr Conroy said the “pooled redundancy” scheme would be a legislated version of what had happened at the closure of Hazelwood power station in Victoria, where other La Trobe valley power stations found work for about 100 of 550 retrenched workers.
It would be part of a broader just transitions policy that would be headed by the creation of a Just Transitions Authority, which would have a staff of about 75 to work with government departments and affected communities to help drive economic diversification of those regions losing coal-fired power stations, including the La Trobe and Hunter valleys.
Mr Conroy said Labor’s new energy policy would require power stations to give three years’ notice of any intention to close down, which would in turn trigger the pooled redundancy scheme.
He said that when a power station gave notice of wanting to exit the industry, the authority would find out how many employees wanted to stay in the industry. Other power stations in the region would then have to offer voluntary redundancies to their employees. He said the age of the workforce meant there would be a lot of people wanting to leave, creating vacancies that would be taken up by the people transferring from the closing power station.
Using Liddell as an example, Mr Conroy said the operators of other Hunter Valley power stations such as Vales Point, Eraring and Bayswater would offer voluntary redundancies to their workforce.
“If 300 wanted to continue from Liddell it would mean the other power stations offering a corresponding number of voluntary redundancies, with the costs to be funded by the operator of the closing station along with the federal and state governments,” Mr Conroy said.
He said a similar scheme had operated in the NSW coal industry in the 1990s at a time of multiple mine closures and massive job losses.
He said the new energy scheme could also apply to employees in the coal industry if their jobs were threatened by the loss of domestic coal contracts associated with power station closures.
The Herald raised a number of issues, including the wisdom or even the legality of one company having its hiring policy dictated by the closure of a rival, but Mr Conroy dismissed these concerns and said the policy was in the national interest.
He agreed that the Coalition would likely be opposed to the plan, but said the power industry was a special case and looking after those workers losing their jobs in the transition to renewables was in the national interest.
He said major energy companies had been briefed on the policy on Wednesday.
The Labor policy follows the release of a “Just Transitions” report commissioned by the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union from University of NSW academics and released last month.
The Herald is seeking responses from industry players.
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