“It makes sense to help a strong unionised workforce move into highly skilled, well paid jobs, where workers can continue to build on their working conditions…” 

ETU Delegate Profile: Jason Sladden 

Jason sat down with the ETU to talk about the important steps our union is taking to ensure the protection and welfare of workers and their communities is a priority as we transition to renewable energy generation.  

‘Over the past 5 years The ETU has lobbied Federal Parliament, along with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), to setup a National Transition Authority to oversee the transition from coal and gas electricity generation to renewable energy generation. From the outset I was involved in meetings with firstly Labor Shadow Ministers, then Federal Crossbenchers and now current Government Ministers. The purpose of these meetings was to outline our reasoning for a National Transition Authority to be out in place. This was primarily to ensure that the protection and welfare of workers and their communities was front of mind for all decisions that would affect them in a transition. This Lobbying was successful, and the Federal Government has now set up the Net Zero Economy Agency (NZEA) and Greg Combet, former Federal Labor Minister and former Secretary of the ACTU, was appointed as the Agency’s chair. 

Greg was the key speaker at the national press club. Michael Wright called and asked if I would be available to attend with him. I jumped at the chance to listen to what Greg had to say on the formation and last 12 months’ work of the NZEA and the mandate for the next period of work. 

Greg spoke about the need to support our current generation workforce and the challenges of building a new renewable generation system including the work required to transmit this new form of power to the grid. Including the challenge of continuing to operate and maintain our existing assets and workforce as this happens whilst building a new renewable workforce. 

We got the chance to catch up with Greg after his speech. He said he was impressed that an actual coal fired power station worker had travelled to Canberra to hear him speak on the NZEA. I was able to fill him in on some of the work that the Queensland State Government has done on developing the Energy Workers charter and fleshing out the detail on how it will be implemented. 

We are in a fortunate position in Queensland where most of our electricity generation assets are still in public hands thanks to the 2012 NOT4SALE campaign. In Qld, an orderly and just transition to renewables can be facilitated much more easily than the other states. Because of this, the NZEA will be drawing on the knowledge and experiences from the work already done by the QLD Energy Industry Council.’ 

‘In all cases these (coal fired power) stations still have a degree of asset life left in them. Many workers took jobs at these stations believing they had a career until the station asset life came to an end. Workers realise there is a need to move to a lower carbon generation model, but this shift directly affects them through a reduction in years of work left at their stations. Our union supports the move to renewables, and we need to also support the workers and communities affected by this transition.   

These Coal fired generators have been to backbone of the Australian economy for decades. Being a fixed industry, the wages, and conditions in their EBAs have been able to be gradually bettered through a stable and fully unionised workforce over decades. Many of these wins over the years have translated across the electrical sector and to other sectors. It makes sense to help a strong unionised workforce to move into highly skilled and good, well paid union renewable jobs, where workers can continue to build on those conditions. 

The QLD Energy Workers Charter lays out a world leading set of principles and conditions. The main of which is that no QLD energy worker will lose their job. The ETU was and continues to be at the forefront in the development of this charter. The charter lays out the need for support for workers through, access to and funds for training, redeployment, early retirement, voluntary redundancy, retention of critical skilled workers to safely operate and maintain our stations, and support for contractors. 

This charter has just been legislated in state parliament along with the requirement for the state government to retain as a minimum the current percentage of public ownership of electricity generation in QLD as we build renewables. 

Thanks to Jason both for taking the time to share his story and, more importantly, for his unstinting commitment to supporting his fellow ETU members.  

This article was publised on 30 April 2024.