Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Irony seen as 'dirty jobs' go and clean industry folds

As published recently in the new independent Queensland Telegraph newspaper.
By John Mikkelsen
A FORMER senior technical manager at Gladstone Power Station has hit out at the irony of wide spread “dirty industry” job losses in Central Queensland, at the same time a major “clean energy” manufacturer laid off hundreds of workers in Brisbane.
According to Cameron Hoare, who has a science and environmental engineering background,  more than a thousand job losses flagged in Gladstone and some CQ coal mines in recent weeks are “only the start”.

When the Gillard Labor Government introduced its controversial carbon dioxide tax in July, workers  in the aluminium, coal and other energy intensive industries were assured any job losses would be more than offset by new jobs created in the clean energy sector.
But that has not been the case with Australia’s largest manufacturer of clean energy wind turbine towers, which recently collapsed spectacularly.  More than 300 workers at the RPG Group’s Wacol factory were laid off recently and the company called in voluntary administrator, Ferrier Hodgson.
This happened in the same week that Queensland Alumina Ltd (QAL) announced jobs would be cut at its Gladstone refinery, which is the city’s oldest major industrial site dating back to the 1960’s.
And in the same time frame, hundreds more jobs have been lost in CQ coal mines.  In the latest announcements, Ensham Resources has slashed the workforce at its Emerald open cut operation from 900 to 500 on top of 150 previous reductions and 200 more likely by the end of the year.
A further 300 reductions were announced at BHP’s Gregory Open cut while last month Xstrata flagged 600 cuts without specifying which of its mines in the Hunter Valley or Bowen Basin might be affected and at Wesfarmers Curragh coal mine 1200 contractors were warned their jobs could go. Rio Tinto has also warned of cuts.
However, what sets QAL apart was its reference to “new taxes” among factors influencing its decision.
In a brief statement, the company said plans were in place to "restructure" its operations and “new taxes” were part of the challenges it faced.
"The aluminium structure in Australia is facing extremely difficult market conditions due to a high exchange rate, higher costs of production, low metal process and new taxes," QAL chairman Armando Torres said.
He said the restructure would involve a reduction in the number of support roles across the site, with no "front line roles" made redundant.
"This is a challenging time for QAL. We will work hard to protect jobs wherever possible and we are committed to ensuring that all affected employees are treated fairly,"
 he said.
The company revealed that128 roles have been cut since July 1, with 93 of those from natural attrition and 35 from redundancies.
“New taxes” was seen as an obvious reference to the carbon tax, which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd, have repeatedly blamed for hundreds of other job losses in the aluminium and mining industries. This has always been denied by the Labor Government, which points to low prices, the high Australian dollar and increased State royalties.

The QAL restructure follows 90 job cuts announced at the nearby Boyne Smelters Limited in August.
Widespread cuts come as no surprise to Mr Hoare, who worked in the electricity industry for about 30 years before retiring as engineering and technical services manager at NRG’s Gladstone Power Station in 2009.

“The losses of jobs in Gladstone and Central Queensland mines are only the start, as the industries here are all energy intensive,” he said.

“To introduce excessive regulations and taxes, such as the Carbon Dioxide Tax, on these productive sections of the economy at a time when the world economy is in the doldrums and the Australian dollar is at such a high value, is economic vandalism,” he said.


  1. These industries use a lot of energy- electric power. Electricity has skyrocketed over the past 8 odd years for public consumption. Could it be that their costs have risen in parallel? The same bill amount today buys a lot less KW than just 5 years ago. I thought the carbon tax was about 10 percent of a bill and that this is a much smaller percentage than the rises we have seen over the past 8 years. If the coal price has not risen in the same vein then why the sharp rise over this period? The resource minister recently mentioned on TV something along the lines that the increase in itself has the ability to greatly reduce the amount industry uses and so could derail the economy. As far as shifting jobs to renewable forms, a lot of rebate/subsidies have been slashed. I noticed that QLD still has a solar scheme. These renewables industies will need to go back to R and D before making a comeback but the rising prices will make it somewhat easier for them. I know some that are in the coal industry, and as part of their training they were given a presentation on how solar will come down to parity and their opportunity for making good money will be before that time. I realise a lot of people say solar will NEVER compete with coal, but atleast some in the coal industry takes it as a serious future threat and they see it being sooner than a lot of people might think.

  2. Also i noticed in some recent EIS work that the price of gas - can be used for gas fired power stations, is also set to rise in price in Australia over the next few years and not just in line with inflation.
    As for QAL, i read some paper on refineries and basically it claimed that the industry all over was well aware that the way they deal with their waster red mud will be changed by laws etc. The paper did not specifically mention QAL itself, but there is a small percentage of refineries that do release water into marine environments like is currently permitted. This might be gleaned from some of the wording in your article that they might be making future changes. There are lower costs when using saline water to neutralise waste than other "dry" methods. Then releasing that water later made it the cheapest method also, if the refinery happened to be near a marine environment. For QAL there are also new costs imposed on them by the regulator for more sampling and also conducting toxicology work on fish to see what the release might do to them.

  3. Hi RF - and QAL was recently named as likely source of higher aluminium in parts of the harbour near their Red Mud Dam at South Trees. Aha - a pointing finger, someone to blame for all the sins of harbour pollution. Many locals saw them as a scapegoat for much wider problems created by dredging plumes as indicated in the JCU study of satellite images showing plumes extending 35 km from the dredges.

    RIO Tinto has warned it may cut more jobs from its aluminium and coal businesses as it seeks to rein in "unsustainable" cost increases.
    In an investor update, the mining giant also says it expects growth in China's steel demand to peak at around one billion tonnes by 2030.
    While prospects for the US and European economies remain uncertain, Rio Tinto is "cautiously optimistic" about China.
    Rio Tinto has refused to confirm how many jobs will go as it plans to slash costs further at its global mining operations.
    The company is targeting more than $US5 billion in cost savings from reducing operating and support expenses over the next two years.
    Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese said the company was trying to rein in the "unsustainable" cost rises of the past few years.
    He says the cost cuts are most likely to come at its Australian coal operations, and its aluminium business.
    "Any business that's been in ups and downs of cycles recognises that difficult decisions need to be made," Mr Albanese said.
    "We will treat those difficult decisions with the necessary respect both to the individuals and to the communities that they may operate in.
    "We will engage at the individual community level. We will not provide a number (of job losses)."
    Mr Albanese said the company was looking more closely at the cost of any new coal projects in Australia before proceeding.


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