Australia - Valley fights for its jobs (the human side of power saga) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Valley fights for its jobs
Saturday 5 February 2000

The way Mr Rod Somerville sees it, everyone in the LaTrobe Valley is connected to one of the big four power generators, whether they choose it or not.

The power plants are the main employers. And workers' wages are the lifeblood of towns such as Moe and Morwell.

In his case, his wage as a plant operator at Yallourn Energy stretches to meet the needs of three generations.

Mr Somerville's two sons, with young families of their own, cannot find work in the economically depressed valley. So he, the patriarch, gives what he can.

But on Monday he will be able to give no more. He, along with more than 400 other Yallourn Energy workers will be locked out, joining the 80 maintenance workers who have been locked out for 25 days.

If the company has its way, they will not be returning for two months; but may be back sooner if their unions give in to the company's demands to employ contractors on company terms.

The company wants to end the enterprise agreement to get greater workplace flexibility, alter workers' hours, and use contractors without unions' consent.

In exchange, Yallourn Energy has offered a seven-year phasing out of shift rates, no forced redundancies for the life of the new agreement and pay rises.

But the dozens of workers that have manned a protest camp outside the power plant strongly oppose lucrative short-term enticements that will buy the company new provisions to dictate the use of contract labor.

Sitting with his workmates in searing heat outside a blue marquee with a plate of tomato sandwiches and an icy drink, electrician Mr Jack Edwards says the bitter dispute is a battle workers cannot afford to lose if the valley is to ever prosper.

Mr Edwards says changing the agreement on contract labor will kill any job security the permanent workers enjoy. "When the SEC was privatised we saw from experience what can happen: people took packages and worked as casuals on short-term contracts and most of them are now unemployed," he says.

His friend, Mr Tony Dunn, who faces being locked out on Monday, says it upsets him to see images on TV of people suffering because of power cuts, but it is wrong for people to blame the union.

"The company has locked us out. And it's not letting us back in until it can get more production with fewer full-time people. They say it's in the public interest, but it's not in Victorians' interest to lose jobs. It is the British interest they are looking after," he says.

Mr Leslie Lobb, who took a redundancy in the early 1990s when the SEC privatised, says he realises now that he should have said no. "I just move from one casual job to the next. There is no security," he says.

He travels across Australia for casual work as a fitter and turner, leaving his wife Linda at home for up to three months to care for their two children Sara, 5, and Lauren, 2.

In nine years, the $100,000redundancy package has been slowly eaten away, used to carry the family through the bad times. "I wish now, I stuck it out at work ... then I would have an income each week," he says.



Americans have expressed certain opinions regarding the Australian electrical power crisis. I post this article to put a human face on the debate.

Regards from Down Under

-- Pieter (, February 05, 2000

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