Imminent blackouts loom over Queensland and northern New South Wales, the result of industrial action being pursued by Mining and Energy Union workers at Kogan Creek, a vital coal-powered plant situated to the west of Brisbane. This unrest could potentially destabilise up to 10% of Queensland’s energy production capacity commencing from Thursday.
Kogan Creek plant, maintained under the aegis of the government-owned entity, CS Energy, is renowned as the most influential, single-unit generator across Australia, responsible for lighting up as many as one million homes. With a total capacity of 750MW, its efficient operation is central to the region’s power supply.
Just days ago, industrial action was sanctioned by the Fair Work Commission, brought forward by MEU. Warning of a possible escalation in strike action if the union’s demands remain unaddressed, Shane Brunker, Queensland district Vice-President of MEU says, “We apologise for any inconvenience, however, we stand at crossroads where hundreds of workers’ livelihoods are under threat.”
Brunker reveals the first line of action will see the shutdown of conveyor belts, transporting coal from the nearby Kogan mine to the power plant, reducing the station’s readily available coal reserves. Subsequently, the union plans to operate the plant at reduced capacity during peak times in mornings and evenings next week, undermining the power output.
Central to the dispute is the claimed casual use of labour within CS Energy facilities including Callide station in Central Queensland. Fear of eventual redundancy is escalating among coal plant workers as the government is eyeing a shift from coal to more sustainable energy sources.
In transitioning to green energy, a pact has been inked by CS Energy, the union, and the Queensland government to guide transitional treatment of workers. It promises new career advancements and retraining opportunities. However, Brunker complains of a lack of comprehensive consultation involving the workers regarding the government’s transition plans. He labels the charter as ‘wayward’.
The closure of Kogan Creek is scheduled for 2035 but there are concerns within the union that this may come sooner, plunging the plant’s future, and that of its workers, into uncertainty. “It remains to be seen what will transpire,” says a concerned Brunker.
Demands put forth by the union include amending the charter to the under-negotiation enterprise agreement to enable advanced consultation periods. Other demands include mandatory reporting on the engagement of contract labour at CS Energy’s plants and removing the existing 75-week redundancy payment cap.
Both Kogan Creek and Kogan Mine employ in excess of 200 workers between them. The proposed strike threatens to exacerbate Queensland’s energy security woes, with the relocation of workers from the problematic Callide station already being carried out for necessary repairs and renovations.
In conclusion, Brunker urges the Queensland government to initiate dialogues with CS Energy and the Union to figure out fundamental worker security and potential prospects during the transition. “Without tangible directions from the government during negotiations, we could face severe implications for our energy security, especially during peak summer power generation,” Brunker cautioned, outlining the dire ramifications of an unresolved dispute. Union negotiations for an alternate EA addressing Callide will kick off by Monday.