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AWU warns NSW Parliament insufficient coal caps putting manufacturers at risk

December 22, 2022

The Australian Workers’ Union is warning the coal caps legislated by the NSW Parliament today leave industry exposed by not capping the price of coal sold to steel, chemical, and cement facilities.

The NSW Parliament today passed legislation that capped the price of coal used for electricity generation, a move advocated for and supported by the union.

However AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said he was worried that major employers were being left exposed by the laws.

“The main reason our union has been campaigning so hard for a cap on coal prices was that we knew steel, chemical, and cement producers were facing unsustainable prices. Worryingly, that will still be the case under the legislation passed by the New South Wales Parliament today,” Mr Walton said.

“Under the new laws, factories that purchase coal directly for their operations will not enjoy the caps. That means their future in this state will be wobbly at best.

“Thousands of quality jobs depend on these industries in New South Wales. I am surprised and disappointed that the new laws have not been designed to protect these workers.

“I note that the State Opposition Leader, Chris Minns, has pointed out this gap in the legislation today. Given Parliament was specially recalled to deal with this crisis, I understand the support he has given the existing package. But it does leave the problem unaddressed.

“I urge the New South Wales Government to amend this legislation as soon as possible, so that industry in this state survives and can continue powering toward a clean future.”

While some industries can look to alternative energy sources others, such as the cement industry, are heavily reliant on coal as a vital feedstock, and as a result are feeling the strain in the face of rising costs and imports.

Andrew Bowie, the AWU delegate at Boral in Berrima, NSW, was part of a delegation of workers from a range of energy-dependent industries that went to Canberra in October to tell the Federal Government how the energy crisis is affecting their employers and putting their jobs at risk.

Andrew says the Berrima plant alone employs about 80 workers under a combined NSW Southern Highlands enterprise agreement that also covers Boral sites at Marulan and Maldon.

“There are a total of about 200 workers under the combined EA in four unions,” he says. “The sites also have about 100 other workers and dozens of local contractors, and this makes Boral a major contributor to the Southern Highlands economy.”

The Berrima Kiln is one of, if not the biggest producer of clinker in the Southern Hemisphere.

Coal is the main source of fuel used to heat raw materials to make clinker, the material that is produced in a kiln and then ground down with a few additives to make cement.

“Imports are a major threat,” Andrew says. “Australia now imports just under 50% of its clinker where 20 years ago it was just 5%.

“Short term, if coal prices are rising through the roof and imported products are also putting the pressure on, if the company feels the plants are not viable they could be forced to close parts of business or pull up stumps and turn solely to imports.”

“We told them there will be businesses that need action from the Government before then, as they will face very tough decisions coming into Christmas.”

Andrew says the situation is particularly unfair, with workers already facing pressure at home with mortgages, interest rates, food and fuel all going up.

“If energy prices are to continue to rise, that downturn may not be far away for our workers.”

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