Blackouts could soon hit Queensland and northern NSW as union workers disrupt operations at a major coal-fired power plant.
Mining and Energy Union workers will pursue industrial action at the Kogan Creek plant west of Brisbane from Thursday, putting at risk 10 per cent of Queensland’s power generation capacity.
The 750MW station, operated by government-owned CS Energy, contains the largest single generating unit in Australia and powers up to one million homes.
On Tuesday, the MEU secured permission from the Fair Work Commission to pursue industrial action, with Queensland district vice-president Shane Brunker warning that the strike could escalate if union demands are not met.
“We apologise for any inconvenience but we’ve got hundreds of workers here whose livelihoods are in jeopardy,” he said.
Mr Brunker said the union would start off by shutting down conveyor belts feeding coal from the nearby Kogan mine into the plant, which would reduce the station’s available coal stocks.
Next week, the union will run the plant at a lower megawatt capacity during peak periods in the morning and at night, degrading power supply.
The dispute centres on the alleged use of casual labour at CS Energy’s plants, which also includes the Callide station in Central Queensland, and fears coal plant workers could be left out as the government transitions its energy mix away from coal.
The union, CS Energy and the Queensland government have signed a charter guiding how workers should be treated in the transition period, with new career and retraining opportunities at the heart of the agreement.
But Mr Brunker said the charter was “all over the place” and workers were not adequately consulted on government plans.
Kogan Creek is booked for closure in 2035 and the union is worried it could come sooner than that.
“No one knows exactly what is going to happen,” Mr Brunker said.
The union wants the charter fixed to the enterprise agreement under negotiation to secure longer lead times on consultation.
It’s also pushing for reporting on the use of contract labour at CS Energy’s plants and the removal of the current 75-week cap on redundancy payments.
There are more than 120 workers at Kogan Creek and another 80 at Kogan mine.
The strike action could amplify Queensland’s energy security risks, with units at the troubled Callide station already shut down for repairs and rebuilds.
“The Queensland government need to get around a table with the Unions and CS Energy, which it owns, and resolve how the Queensland Energy Workers’ Charter will provide security and a future for the Kogan workers,” Mr Brunker said.
“CS Energy needs direction from government at the negotiating table to finish these negotiations otherwise there will be dire consequences for energy security running into the peak period of summer power generation in this state.”
Union negotiations with the company for a replacement EA governing Callide begin on Monday.
CS Energy has been contacted for comment.