Surviving Hazelwood shutdown

Brian (left) and Gary (right) Renwick were left unemployed after a combined 59 years at Hazelwood Power Station.
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Job cuts in Victoria’s eastern power industry have left hundreds of workers struggling to find a stable career. Ryan Malcolm reports.

When Gippsland brothers Brian and Gary Renwick first heard of the imminent closure of Hazelwood, their reaction was disbelief.

What had promised to be a normal working Thursday took a turn for the worst, when owners Engie announced the closure of its oldest power station last November.

“There was uncertainty, but they’d been telling us 2025, however then we heard there was a big meeting being held,” said Gary, 48, an employee for the last 27 years.

“They tried to tell us that the decision had been made the night before, but they had envelopes there with their names on it… it was pretty hard to believe.”

His younger brother Brian, 45, began an apprenticeship at the power station at the age of 16 as a fitter and turner, working with the heavy machinery for five years before moving into work in operations for the last 24 years.

The Hazelwood power station had provided his only job; he had little time to find a new profession.

“They gave us five months, but in between that time was Christmas, so you can take off two months there.”

“We essentially had three months to think of something else to do, either find a new job or retrain.”

The issue was recently raised in State Parliament when Mr Russell Northe, the member for Morwell, questioned the level of mental health support for those left unemployed by the closure, with the station closed as of March earlier this year.

Almost 1000 workers had their jobs cut on November 3, many of whom lacked qualifications outside of industrial work, causing a mad scramble for new employment.

Those out of a job found themselves “at the back of the queue” for finding new work in the power industry and were forced to find other careers, Brian said.

“It was always going to be tough fighting 900 recently unemployed for new work in the power industry” said Brian.

“We decided to go in a completely different direction to everyone else.”

The Renwick brothers are now involved in an intensive course learning to drive ambulances as non-emergency patient transport.

“Brian said to me last December we’ve got to think about going in a completely different direction… instead of relying on the power industry all the time”, said Gary.

“Whether this course leads to employment we still don’t know.”

“It looks like it’s a growing industry… we’ll have a better chance than in the power industry.”

Hazelwood’s closure comes as the latest shock to the declining power industry in Gippsland, after nearby Morwell power station’s closure in 2014.

The brothers noted that employees had been hired only 12 months before the close and were told their job was safe until at least 2020, expecting a “gradual closure”.

Hazelwood power station has now been closed for two months.

“They were letting people lease cars right up until the day that it was closed, so they were actually getting people into debt,” said Gary.

“One fellow picked his lease car up two days before the announcement.”

It was also revealed that some workers were building houses after being employed by the company for only a year, having left decent jobs with the intention of staying at the station until 2025.

“Then they had the rug pulled out from under them,” said Brian.

Pamphlets distributed by the company contained contact details for suicide referral organisation Lifeline.

“They knew that what they were getting some people into was horrific,” Gary said.

Parliament is currently pushing for improved mental health support for those left unemployed in the wake of these closures.

“They (Engie) never told us what industry to head towards…they wouldn’t tell us what we should look for in the future.”

“They brought in counsellors and people to write your resume…they can do all that but in the end you want a job and they gave us no guidance there”.