Australia to Close Largest Coal Plant – What About the Workers?

Australia’s Federal Coalition has publicly pushed back against workers rights and unions in recent labour disputes.

Closing the Eraring Power Station by 2025 represents a positive step away from harmful coal consumption, however the New South Wales (NSW) Greens are concerned for the coal plant workers and their futures.

Greens MP and Energy Spokesperson David Shoebridge emphasized as much on February 17th when he stated that federal and state governments “need to make sure [this closure] is also a win for workers, the region, and the economy.”

Shoebridge indicated how there are examples of state and federal governments working successfully with unions, workers, and regional coal and gas communities, such as the Hunter Central Coast renewable energy zone in 2020.

NSW Greens support the closure of the Eraring Power Station but are expressing concern due to a lack of “serious engagement or investment from the Federal Coalition government” Shoebridge said.

The federal government’s commitment to the environmental is clear, but its commitment to workers is not.

This is especially the case considering how Australia’s Federal Coalition, led by Scott Morrison, has taken more of an anti-worker, anti-union stance in recent labour disputes. NSW railroad workers organized a strike in February and have since been demonized relentlessly by federal government officials. The government claims the Labor party and union movement are “in bed with each other to cause mass destruction in our city and our states” due to the upcoming federal election, and that this strike is more about politics than workers’ rights.

Last week, NSW treasurer Matt Kean unveiled a jobs package that would create nearly 3,700 roles in clean industries, largely in response to the Eraring closure. About 2,700 of the jobs would be in construction. Additionally, the state will invest $250m over 5 years in local manufacturing of components for the renewables sector such as wind towers, electrolysers, and batteries, which Kean said would lead to another 500 jobs. Furthermore, $300m would be spent over 10 years to create 500 additional jobs to expand the state’s clean manufacturing base through programs that were established as part of the state’s net zero strategy.

“We know some existing industries face challenges as the world decarbonises,” Kean said.

“That’s why we need to make sure the low carbon economy thrives in NSW to create the jobs of tomorrow.”

The problem some critics see is that the government has yet to advance any specific plan with regard to reassigning or training workers. For now, there is a lot of money on the table and the promise of future jobs, but more information is needed from the state and federal governments to ensure that the workers are well-trained and have a quality job by the time the Eraring Power Station closes in 2025. Will Scott Morrison’s current stance on workers rights and unions negatively effect the outcome for Eraring employees? Workers at the coal plant are not overtly politically hostile with the current administration like the railroad unions are, but that does not ensure Morrison will assist Eraring workers in achieving a stable future.

Ryan Dumont

Ryan (Tiohtià:ke/Montréal) is a political science student at Concordia University. His interests in green politics include healthcare reform, feminism, Indigenous affairs, homelessness, education, immigration, asylum-seekers and refugees, drug reform, workers' rights, and more.

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