Shock, denial, stress, anger. Workers are struggling to comprehend the early closure of Australia’s largest coal-fired power station and the plan for what comes next.
On a mild March day in a brown bike shed at Eraring, the biggest coal-fired power station in Australia, 19 men in high-vis work gear crouch on a low bench around the shed walls. It’s lunch time. The men are contractors and they are looking up at their union leader, Cory Wright, for certainty.
Employed by labour hire companies, they are among the most vulnerable workers caught up in the Lake Macquarie power station’s impending closure. Many have worked at Eraring for years, some decades. But they are only entitled to a fraction of the redundancy payout that their colleagues directly hired by the station’s owner, Origin Energy, will get.
When Cory asks the workers if they want to share some thoughts, some say they don’t believe Eraring Power Station will really shut down. A bald man at the back is first to speak. “I can’t actually see them closing as yet,” he says. “That’s my thoughts personally.” Another man sitting two seats along agrees. “I don’t know. I just can’t — we can’t see it closing, not by ’25 anyway,” he says referring to the new closure date of 2025 — seven years earlier than expected.
Union officials say this denial is a form of shock that they’ve heard often since the recent announcement of Eraring’s closure. Each time they hear it, they remind the workers to take the closure date seriously.