The Need for a Just Transition

Taking action on climate change will create many new jobs. But high emitting industries will decline, with the associated loss of regional jobs and economic activity. This is entirely predictable and it is critical that government acts to support workers and communities impacted by the energy transition.

At a minimum Australia needs a Just Transition Authority or Energy Transition Authority to undertake planning, invest in re-skilling, retraining and redeploying workers, and invest in diversifying the economies of impacted communities. Germany has managed to phase out its hard coal mines without a single forced redundancy as a result of significant government planning, investment and institutional support over a period of 2 decades.

Clearly Australia’s energy transition is going to have the greatest impact on the workers, family members and communities that are employed in or are host to Australia’s remaining 18 coal-fired power stations. While the Morrison Government has consistently decried the loss of coal industry jobs it has done nothing to support these communities affected by the energy transition.

Key elements necessary for the orderly closure of power stations and a just transition for workers and the community include:

• A commitment to no forced redundancies by the power station’s operators. Ideally this is coupled with a pooled voluntary redundancy scheme with nearby generators, where older workers at non-closing power stations can nominate for voluntary redundancy and make way for younger workers from the closing power station. A limited pooled redundancy scheme was funded for Hazelwood’s closure though it significantly underachieved its target of redeploying 150 workers.

• Lengthy and enforceable notice periods announcing future intention to close, for example AGL’s 5 years notice at Liddell, which provides lead time to build replacement generation and plan orderly closure and redeployment and training of the workforce.

 • Comprehensive and funded mine and power station site rehabilitation plans which can provide a significant source of employment. The rehabilitation of Hazelwood mine for instance is expected to take a decade and is employing around 200 contractors.

• Funding and support to retrain power station workers

• Funding and support to diversify the regional economies of coal regions, through public investments in new infrastructure, education facilities, relocation of government services, training programs and industry development policy.

• Value the work of female-dominated industries. Many emissions intensive industries are male-dominated. Therefore, fossil fuel economy workers are often the primary or sole income-earner in their household. Better valuing the work of workers in female-dominated industries through higher wages and better conditions would reduce the impact of fossil-fuel plant closures on households and communities.

Read the ACTU’s policy paper on Just Transitions here: https://www.actu.org.au/our-work/policy-issues/actu-policy-discussion-paper-a-just-transition-for-coal-fired-electricity-sector-workers-and-communities

As well as looking after workers and communities in industries that are changing, we need to ensure that new low emissions industries are creating decent jobs with good conditions. Australian unions are working to improve employment conditions in the renewable energy industry which now employs over 27,000 Australians. If you’ve got either a good news story, or a bad news story about a renewable energy workplace let us know by sending your story to m.wakeham@actu.org.au

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Workers at the Vestas renewable energy hub at the old Ford factory in Geelong. The hub, part of the Victorian state government’s energy transition strategy, employed many workers from a nearby factory that closed, providing these workers with a clean energy lifeline.