Jobs toll could reach 70 at Energy Brix

UPDATE: The Latrobe Valley's employment landscape has taken its second major blow this week, with the majority of Energy Brix power station employees set to lose their jobs by the end of next month.

The shock announcement came in a media release earlier today, stating the majority of the power station's 37 employees would leave on redundancy packages, when operations cease at the end of August.

On Friday, the company contracted to operate HRL's adjoining briquette factory, Mecrus, informed more than 30 workers their positions would be terminated on 30 August.

The combined redundancy announcements could bring total job losses across the power station and briquette factory to about 70.

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union organiser Duncan MacGregor said the union would be meeting with HRL management tomorrow morning.   

"These are pretty dire circumstances that are going to be felt not only by workers' families, but much of the Latrobe Valley community,"  Mr MacGregor said.      

"Seventy jobs is going to have one hell of an impact on the local job market."

HRL said operations at the Energy Brix site will be reduced to mothballing activities, briquette stockpile management and the loading of briquette deliveries.

HRL have announced a feasibility study into the commercial viability of a project to re-power the briquette factory with a new steam supply, which is due to be completed at the end of 2014. 

YESTERDAY: More than 30 Mecrus employees at Morwell's Energy Brix briquette factory have been handed their final marching orders, effective 30 August.

In letters of termination delivered to 33 employees on Friday morning, Mecrus told workers its current briquette production contract with factory owner HRL would not be renewed.

While employees will receive redundancy payments proportionate to their years of service, concerns have been raised for the welfare of older workers who will be forced to re-enter a tight job market.

Construction Forestry Energy and Mining Union organiser Duncan MacGregor said the average age of the soon-to-be-redundant workers was 50 years old.

"A handful of the older guys will be quietly happy to get a package, but then you have the rest of them, who now after years and years working at this place will need to go out and find another job in the Latrobe Valley," Mr MacGregor said.

"As much as this moment has seemed inevitable for these guys, it still comes as a shock to you when you get that word 'termination' in a letter."

In a termination letter seen by The Express, workers were told operator/maintainer positions were "no longer needed", and the decision was "not a reflection" of their performance.

"Mecrus has made attempts to find alternative positions within the enterprise and any associated entities, but unfortunately we have not been able to find you suitable alternative employment that matched your skill and experience."

The contract termination brings to an end a 10-year relationship between Mecrus and HRL.

It is understood relations between the two companies had soured in recent months.

In early June, Mecrus employees narrowly escaped indefinite stand down, after it emerged its contracted briquette production quota had been fulfilled.

Mr MacGregor said he understood the operation had lost between 60 and 65 per cent of customer orders, a much higher loss than indicated by Mecrus during the June contractual dispute.

Mecrus and HRL did not return phone calls from The Express on Friday.

The redundancies open the door to speculation about the future of HRL's wider Valley-based operations, including its ageing power station - which employs about 30 people.

The entire operation has been kept afloat by a $50 million Federal Government package awarded to HRL in mid-2012, buying time for briquette customers to transition to cleaner fuel sources.

"We have serious concerns as to whether the other parts of the business will operate post-August, and we have to be concerned what effect that is going to have on the community," Mr MacGregor said.

While the CFMEU met with HRL's hierarchy last Monday, Mr MacGregor said the union was given no indication as to the company's future plans.

A HRL board meeting is understood to be taking place this week.

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