A new alliance of union and environment groups in the Hunter will officially form this week with the aim of ending the failed “jobs versus environment” dynamic that they say is holding the region back. The Alliance has been spearheaded by the NSW Branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, working in partnership with Labor Environment Action Network and state and regional environmental groups.
The Hunter Jobs Alliance is an initiative of thirteen local and statewide unions and environmental advocacy groups in the region and will officially endorse and lodge its constitution in Maitland on Tuesday 3 November.
NSW Secretary of the AMWU, Cory Wright said, “Our union has thought long and hard about how we might intervene effectively in the fractured politics of energy that are short-changing workers, regional communities and future generations.
“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.”
Tim Lang, spokesperson for the NSW branch of Labor Environment Action Network said, “The lie that workers interests and the environment are at odds has been repeated time and again by self-interested elites in business and politics.”
“We’re proud to be part of the Hunter Jobs Alliance because we believe that the people of this region deserve better. Change is coming and we want to see the Hunter’s proud industrial heritage continue right alongside a thriving environment. Working together and with a seat at the table we know we can have both. We will not allow our communities to be left behind because of a failure to plan.”
Justin Page, NSW Secretary of the ETU said, “Workers need a voice in the region’s future. If we leave the future of the Hunter’s energy industries to big business and the free market to decide, devoid of genuine community dialogue and leadership and without a seat at the table for workers, we will be on a path to workers and the region being left high and dry. Our union is not prepared to see that happen and we need to be at the table to ensure workers get job security and maintain good pay and conditions.”
Newcastle environmentalist, Georgina Woods, said, “The Hunter has a proud history of environmentalists and workers supporting each other in their struggle to make this region fairer for both people and the environment. We’re looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and putting governments and big business on notice that workers, communities, and the environment are at the heart of what makes this place great.”
The Hunter Jobs Alliance will organise a summit in March 2021 to bring workers, environmentalists, business and government together to discuss the region’s future. See over for a snapshot of its upcoming activities and priorities.
Hunter Jobs Alliance declaration
The Hunter region has powered New South Wales for decades with its vast natural resources and generations of skilled workers.
The Hunter Jobs Alliance aims for a future for our region with full employment, good union jobs, a thriving and healthy living environment, an equitable society, a stable climate, and renewable prosperity.
We will campaign for local and sustainable jobs in energy, manufacturing and supply-chains, food-production, education and health and care, with union agreements and the best possible terms and conditions. We will campaign for all new energy sources to be renewable energy with low carbon firming.
We focus not on what divides us, but on our shared interest in diversifying and strengthening the Hunter economy. In a time of change, we need to build new sustainable industries and opportunities to ensure the Hunter remains a great place to live for both us and our children.
We are a community and union alliance that is grounded in the local and works with governments and industry to deliver a sustainable, safe, and prosperous future for the Hunter in which workers, their families, and the environment thrive.
The Hunter Jobs Alliance believes the Hunter region needs three key things:
A public process to involve the public and stakeholders in planning for and adjusting to changes in the thermal coal market. This process must be upfront with people about the challenges we’re facing and give the region control over major decisions about new industry and structural adjustment.
Public investment in new industry and support for workers and communities: businesses must contribute and participate, but large-scale public investment is necessary for scale, certainty, transparency and to ensure the public interest is paramount.
Tangible and immediate actions: there are opportunities now that can begin investment, create jobs and build confidence in the region’s future, such as the transformation of Tomago aluminium to renewable energy, maintaining its keystone role in Hunter industry and energy stability.
The transformation this region needs to undertake will occur at multiple scales, involving people and stakeholders transparently and making workers, communities and the environment the first priorities.
Snapshot of projects
Tomago transformed: Tomago aluminium smelter produces 25% of Australia’s aluminium, a product that will be increasingly sought-after in low-carbon industry. Switching Tomago to renewable energy and giving it a formal role in energy stability can decarbonise this keystone industry and create wider opportunities. It needs a region-specific approach that prioritises workers, community and the environment.
Housing and school retrofit: Public investment in retrofitting 264,000 homes in the Hunter with heat and energy efficiency technology and with solar and batteries over five years would employ 10,000 people per year and can begin immediately. Schools also need fitting out with solar and climate adaptation strategies to keep kids cool
Fly ash reuse: Currently, 150 million tonnes of fly ash is gathering in dumps next to the Hunter’s four power stations where it is a source of pollution. Incentives to reuse this material will reduce greenhouse and heavy metal pollution and could lead to new manufacturing of building products in the region.
The participating members of the Hunter Jobs Alliance will be contacting their members and supporters over the next month to talk to them about the initiative and invite their participation.
The list of priority projects to support will be refined and engagement with government and business will begin, advocating for a local statutory authority to oversee investment and public involvement in the process.
A summit will be held on 26 March inviting community, government and business stakeholders from across the region to work together to establish common ground about what the region needs to secure its future as thermal coal markets decline.
Groups participating in the Hunter Jobs Alliance are: Australian Manufacturing Workers Unions NSW Branch, Electricity Trades Union NSW & ACT Branch (ETU), United Workers' Union;The Australian, Municipal, Administrative, Clerical and Services Union NSW & ACT Services Branch (ASU), Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU); Teachers Federation NSW Branch, Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT Branch, The New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association (NMA), Labor Environment Action Network is a Founding Organisation, Lock the Gate Alliance, Hunter Community Environment Centre, The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales.