A new report by the Industrial Relations Research Centre at UNSW Business School suggests workers who depend on the coal-fired power industry face a bleak and uncertain future unless there is a managed energy transition.

The Ruhr or Appalachia? report examines case studies from around the world of the successful and unsuccessful management of industry transition. 

With Australia’s 23 coal-fired power stations forecast by their operators to be closed by 2050, the report argues government should invest in a comprehensive package of measures including an independent statutory Energy Transition Authority to oversee closures and support workers into new jobs and industries. 

It illustrates the wide range of potential outcomes Australian energy workers face – from Germany’s Ruhr region where planning and investment in new industries saw a major transition from coal and steel-making with no forced redundancies, to Appalachia in the US where short-term and fragmented responses to coal mine closures has resulted in entrenched poverty and social dysfunction. 

The report, commissioned by CFMMEU Mining and Energy, recommends that instead of leaving decisions around the timing and conditions of closure to the power companies alone, a federal government authority should be established to work with all stakeholders well before any closure to manage the effect on workers and local communities. 

The report also recommends a package of policies to support transition in affected regional communities, including promoting geographical hubs or ‘clusters’ for new high-tech industries and services; and public sector investment in infrastructure projects to generate employment. 

Report author Professor Peter Sheldon said there was no one-size-fits-all policy solution to support a just transition, but international experience suggested a clear recipe for success. 

“A just transition process can revitalise regions dependent on coal-fired power stations and provide substantial opportunities to generate good jobs – if planning begins well ahead of closures,” said UNSW Business School’s Professor Sheldon.

“The best mechanism for this is a national framework that mandates proper planning and implementation. International evidence tells us that such a framework will require active participation from companies, workforce union representation, and government.”

Media contacts:

Julian Lorkin: 02 9385 9887 | 0405 805 365 | j.lorkin@unsw.edu.au  

Jackie Woods: (CFMEU) 0414 241 483