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Imported Wind Towers Blocked as Workers Fight For Local Jobs

By Kate Shuttleworth

Keppel Prince workers gathered outside the Portland docks to protest and block the import of wind towers from overseas. Photo courtesy of AMWU.

Keppel Prince workers gathered outside the Portland docks to protest and block the import of wind towers from overseas. Photo courtesy of AMWU.

AMWU & AWU members at Victorian wind turbine manufacturer, Keppel Prince, have successfully held up the unloading of imported wind towers. They are protesting the Morrison Government’s failure to require the use of local steel and local manufacturing - which has resulted in 40 Keppel Prince workers losing their jobs, and a further 100 workers facing an unclear future. Instead, the Government opted to make a deal with Danish company Vestas to install wind turbines at Ryan Corner wind farm that will power some of its Snowy Hydro 2.0. 

On a freezing cold 24-hour picket line starting on June 22nd at the Portland docks, union members and community allies remained strong and would not allow the wind towers to be taken from the ships and transported to their destination, the Morrison Government’s Snowy Hydro 2.0 project. 

The community of Portland backed workers in renewables as they continued their fight to get the Morrison Government to ensure it used local steel and local manufacturing in its contract for Ryan Corne which will supply power to its Snowy Hydro 2.0.

The protest to highlight the Morrison Government’s failure to support secure jobs in the region has been successful. GE soon abandoned their attempts at getting the towers off the boat and unloaded. The company is now storing the towers at the port, essentially leaving them where they sit idle on the container ship, costing them thousands more.

They were also forced to bring a crane from Melbourne to unload the towers - again, costing thousands. If the towers can’t be unloaded, the boat won’t be able to return and sail out of port, costing the company even more. 

AMWU delegate Jamie Wombwell paid tribute to the “amazing” community support.  

“We’ve had businesses come down and give us all coffee and an elderly lady brought us cupcakes and scones.

“People really care about saving regional jobs.”

Workers and community supporters kept a 24-hour picket line in order to ensure the towers could not be unloaded. Image courtesy of AMWU.

Workers and community supporters kept a 24-hour picket line in order to ensure the towers could not be unloaded. Image courtesy of AMWU.

Earlier this year, Keppel Prince made 40 workers redundant when the contracts to build the towers for two nearby wind-farm projects, supplying power to a Federal Government project, were given to overseas companies.

The Morrison Government signed a deal to purchase 75 percent of the energy generated by the Port Fairy wind farm for the next 15 years to power Snowy Hydro 2.0, but they refused to mandate any local content as part of the deal, locking out manufacturing workers at Keppel Prince.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had backed Keppel Prince workers through requiring local content in its Victorian Renewable Energy Targets, but the Morrison Government had failed to do the same. For Dean Wombwell and his colleagues, it’s caused major stress.

“Being a young bloke who has just bought a house and wanting to start a family, the uncertain times have put a real hold on things.

“It’s affected a lot of people - some of whom have already started a family - and the ripple effect from having to put off those 40 workers is massive. Some are still looking for work or are unemployed.”

The 40 redundancies could be just the beginning - over 100 more jobs are still under threat. Jamie and his fellow worker Dean weren’t about to let the jobs that support their community disappear without a fight, so they did what AMWU members do best – they got organised.

The Keppel Prince workers, made up of a mix of AMWU and AWU members, have rallied in Portland and Melbourne, as well as going up to Canberra to campaign for their jobs.  

Jamie says that the lack of mandated local content left it open for the wind tower companies - Vestas, GEs, Siemens, Messers - to have no local content. Now it all can come in from overseas.

“That means it’s obviously cheaper, but the quality is not near the standards we produce. Our towers far exceed the Australian standards.”

He also says the extra cost involved in ensuring the towers were made locally would amount to just 2% of the overall cost of the project, or 0.5% more per kilowatt hour, and would secure demand for Australian steel and jobs.

Support the AMWU by signing their petition to call on the Morrison Government to step up to prioritise Australian manufacturing jobs and commit to buying Aussie-made.

Kate Shuttleworth is a Communications Officer with the National Branch of the AMWU.

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