Yallourn workers march through Melbourne

Yallourn power station workers marched in Melbourne on August 16.

Locked-out Yallourn power station workers were joined by hundreds of people at a rally outside the offices of their employer, Energy Australia, in Melbourne on August 16.

The company, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based China Light and Power, locked out all 75 shift operators, members of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), on June 21.

The workers had been limiting power output as part of a campaign of protected industrial action in pursuit of a new enterprise agreement.

The workers had been trying for 12 months to negotiate an agreement that would guarantee adequate staffing levels and the right to be consulted about proposed changes in the operation of the plant.

Jill Huxley, the wife of a locked-out worker, told the rally her husband normally works 12-hour shifts and misses many family occasions.

She spoke of the company's failure to respect its workers, and the hardship of going for eight weeks without pay.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver pledged the ACTU's support for the workers, and CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor pledged that the whole CFMEU will be mobilised.

CFMEU Victorian secretary John Setka recalled the company's claims that a fire in the power station had been started by the workers, and condemned the media for failing to publicise a fire brigade finding that the cause of the fire was an electrical fault.

CFMEU mining and energy division Victorian president Luke van der Meulen said the Victorian government is planning to introduce a law banning power workers from ever going on strike.

Victorian Greens MP Colleen Hartland pledged her support for the workers, as did Democratic Labor Party Senator John Madigan.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham condemned Energy Australia for dangerous practices, citing the collapse of a mine wall last year, and cuts to maintenance spending.

Wakeham spoke of the need to phase out coal-fired power stations, but said this should not mean "hanging workers out to dry".

He said the Latrobe Valley needed new investment but "free-market thinking" will not deliver this in a planned way.

Community activist Dave Kerin asked the crowd if they would be willing to block the power station gates if the company continues to refuse to negotiate, and got an enthusiastic response.

He also spoke of plans for a cooperative factory in the Latrobe Valley.


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