AMWU, ETU and other unions push 'just transition' policies by forming new post-coal jobs alliance

EIGHT unions and five environmental groups have formed a new "jobs alliance" to counter the "failed 'jobs versus the environment' dynamic" they say is holding back the Hunter Region when it comes to energy policy and the "inevitable" transition to renewables.

UNLIKELY STEP: That's how AMWU official Cory Wright describes the joining of union and environmental groups to form the Hunter Jobs Alliance. With him from left are Tim Lang, Justin Page and Georgina Woods.
 UNLIKELY STEP: That's how AMWU official Cory Wright describes the joining of union and environmental groups to form the Hunter Jobs Alliance. With him from left are Tim Lang, Justin Page and Georgina Woods.

The Hunter Jobs Alliance will be launched today at Maitland after months of behind-the-scenes work by members including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union on one side, and Lock The Gate and the Labor Environment Action Network on the other.

The alliance is organising a summit for March 26 next year to "bring workers, environmentalists, business and government together to discuss the region's future".

Perhaps significantly, the main coalmining union, the CFMEU, is not part of the alliance, although it has been advocating similar policies since 2016 in line with the global "Just Transition" movement.

Four key players in the group - AMWU state secretary Cory Wright, his ETU counterpart Justin Page, Newcastle environmentalist Georgina Woods and Tim Lang from the Labor Environment Action Network (NSW branch) - spoke with the Newcastle Herald yesterday, stressing that while they saw transition from fossil fuels as inevitable, they were not "anti-coal".

In its official declaration, the alliance says the Hunter needs three "key things", the first being an "upfront public process to involve the public and stakeholders in planning for and adjusting to changes in the thermal coal market".

The other two are government spending on "new industries and support for workers and communities", and "tangible and immediate actions", such as the three long-term projects the alliance says would create meaningful jobs while benefiting the environment.

They are: transforming Tomago Aluminium smelter to renewable energy; using government funds to retrofit Hunter schools and about 250,000 houses with solar, batteries and energy-efficient technology over five years, employing 10,000 people a year; and reusing power station fly ash, with an estimated 150 million tonnes stored next to the Hunter's four coal-fired power stations, where it is causing contamination concerns.

Mr Wright said the AMWU had "thought long and hard about how to best intervene in an energy debate that was short-changing workers and regional communities, now and into the future".

"We have taken the unlikely step of building a coalition with other trade unions, community and environmental groups to start the long process of advocating for industry and regional investment and the first thing we'll be pushing for is a local statutory authority that can assist the region in this process," Mr Wright said.