ACTU Policy Discussion Paper - A Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers and communities

Executive Summary

The ACTU is primarily concerned with workers, their rights, their welfare and their future. A just and civil society is one where everyone shares in the wealth of the nation but it is also one where economic costs are equally shared.

Transitioning an industry is a massive economic and social disruption. History shows that this has often been done poorly in Australia, with workers and communities bearing the brunt of such transitions - suffering hardship, unemployment and generations of economic and social depression.

Research in the textiles, clothing and footwear (TCF) and car manufacturing industries shows, for example, that only one third of workers find equivalent full time work following their retrenchment, while one third move into lower quality jobs (lower wage, lower job status or into part-time and casual work) and one third are locked out of the labour force altogether.

International experience however shows that a transition can be done equitably, achieve positive outcomes for workers, save communities and forge new areas of industrial growth and prosperity.

Australia is currently facing one such transition in the coal-fired electricity sector. If Australia manages this transition well, the nation would have a structured and equitable approach that could apply to any industry undergoing similar change in the future.

At last year’s Paris climate conference, Australia alongside 194 countries, committed to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. As part of this historic agreement, unions successfully achieved recognition of the need for a ‘Just Transition’ that supports the most affected workers obtain new decent and secure jobs in a clean energy economy.

While Australia’s international obligations will require a range of complementary policies that focus on emission reduction across a number of sectors of the economy, as the largest contributor to Australia’s emissions, effective reform of the electricity sector has been identified as a key step in tackling climate change.

With strong leadership across government, industry, unions and communities, we can ensure that past mistakes are not made again.

Australian unions have identified three key elements of a framework that needs to be implemented to ensure that the transition occurs in a fair and just way. This will require:

1. A transition plan – ensuring that Australia’s transition is managed in a fair and just manner, where affected workers and communities are supported to find secure and decent jobs in a clean energy economy;

2. A jobs plan – focusing on creating new jobs in a clean energy economy; and

3. An energy plan – setting out a sustainable future energy mix that ensures the affordable and secure supply of electricity.

This paper outlines a transition plan for working people and their communities who rely on the coal-fired electricity sector for employment, and focuses on the need to minimise the impact of unplanned closures on regional communities, which we have seen recently occur in the Port Augusta and Anglesea communities.

Unions are not alone in their call for a transition plan. Regional communities have been crying out for a plan for some time, with the Committee for Gippsland the most recent to join these calls. It is time that the Australian Government works with unions, industry and communities to develop a national plan to transition Australia to a clean energy economy.

If managed well, Australia’s transition to a clean energy economy offers enormous opportunities for new sustainable and decent employment not only in the energy sector, but in transport, construction, agriculture and the services industry. With forward planning and investment in our regions, low carbon industries and workforce, we can create a more prosperous and diversified economy.