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Clean comes with a cost: Workers face big pay cuts in energy transition

Coal workers forced out of the industry face a big drop in pay when they transition to a new industry, according to a study by e61.

Oct 23, 2023, updated Oct 23, 2023
Workers hats hang on the fence outside the Hazelwood power station. 
The Hazelwood coal fired power station in Victoria's La Trobe Valley closes (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

Workers hats hang on the fence outside the Hazelwood power station. The Hazelwood coal fired power station in Victoria's La Trobe Valley closes (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

It found that over the past decade, about a third of Australia’s power stations had closed and more closures were scheduled as the nation moves towards renewables.

The e61 report showed that the cost of redundancy was higher for workers displaced by the power station closures. Earnings fell by almost 70 per cent while those in other industries made redundant earned 43 per cent less in their new roles.

The findings are a warning to the Queensland sector which has not faced the shutdowns that have occurred in NSW and Victoria because the generator fleet is much younger.

It also follows news last week that Glencore would shut its copper mines in Mt Isa in two years with about 1200 jobs impacted.

The report author, Dan Andrews, said managing the impact on workers would be a key factor in Australia’s transition.

It also found that four years after the redundancy workers from the coal fired power plant were still earning about 50 per cent less than pre-redundancy. Workers in other sectors faced a 30 per cent gap in earnings.

Report co-author Elyse O’Dwyer said those with lower skills felt the biggest impact.

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“There’s a variety of factors that may cause this, such as many coal industry workers being located in regional areas with abundant alternatives to high paying jobs, but other crucial factors are the age of the workers being made redundant and the potential non-transferability of skills,” she said.

The report came as the Australian Energy Market Operator revealed that rooftop solar was hitting record levels of output.

Record renewable generation output in the three months to September slashed average wholesale electricity prices in the national electricity market (NEM) by more than two-thirds, and reduced emissions by 11 per cent compared to a year earlier.

By region, South Australia recorded the highest average quarterly price at $92/MWh, followed by NSW ($81/MWh), Queensland ($65/MWh), Victoria ($49/MWh) and Tasmania ($29/MWh).

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