SUBJECT: Adjustment package for Port Kembla BlueScope Workers.
TONY ARTHUR: Senator Cash good morning.
MINISTER CASH: Good morning, how are you?
TONY ARTHUR: Well thank you. Can you take us through some of the details that you see of the benefits of this $670,000 package?
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. Well, when job losses occur, one of the first concerns of the Government is for the workers and their families who are affected by retrenchments. So as a Government we are committed to helping achieve the best possible job outcomes for anybody who finds themselves out of work. So in relation to the structural adjustment programs, they are looked at on a case-by-case basis, and in terms of Port Kembla and BlueScope workers, we’ve announced a $670,000 dollar adjustment package, and it’s going to be specifically targeted to connect retrenched workers to a wide range of support services.
One of the other things we’re doing is we’re going to be appointing an Illawarra employment facilitator. They’ll be local, so they’ll know the area, they may even know some of the people, and they’ll be an on-the-ground resource to help those jobseekers reconnect with employment and training opportunities as quickly as possible.
TONY ARTHUR: Now I don’t want to rain on the parade, but while welcoming the announcement, especially the dedicated employment facilitator, Wayne Phillips from the AWU generally said the measures are too little too late. Should the Government have responded sooner to the needs of the BlueScope workers?
MINISTER CASH: Oh look I’m going to disagree with that. In the first instance, it is clearly disappointing that jobs will be lost; but what I will say is that BlueScope has worked with its workers and they deserve praise for successfully negotiating a way to keep the plant open and save as many as 5000 jobs. So in the first instance, that’s a good thing, the company has worked with the workers to put in place a solution. We know though that there are still going to be job losses; that’s when the Government, on a case by case basis, can look at the situation and say what can we do to provide assistance to these workers. And in this case it’s the 670,000 investment in the adjustment package, along with the appointment of the Illawarra employment facilitator.
TONY ARTHUR: Wayne Phillips also said to us that, by and large, of the hundreds of BlueScope workers who were retrenched, the vast majority have either moved into retirement, they were of an age to simply say well that’s it I’ll move into retirement, others have found themselves new jobs, and it comes down to a handful of BlueScopers- BlueScope’s retrenched workers who need this assistance. But he said he thought more of the contract workers, those who worked by contract for BlueScope who might need assistance. Will this package extend to them?
MINISTER CASH: Well at this stage we’re looking at those workers of BlueScope. If there’s any worker that needs assistance obviously this funding has been provided in what I would say is a timely manner to get them back into the workforce as quickly as possible. As I said, it’s disappointing when anyone loses their job, but in the first instance this is all about BlueScope identifying the needs of those workers and then providing them with assistance.
TONY ARTHUR: Are you open to the possibility of extending it too if it ends up being a couple of hundred people we’re talking about contract workers?
MINISTER CASH: Well at this stage I don’t know the exact numbers, but certainly we’ve based the $670,000 around what we believe is an appropriate package. I’m always open to consider assistance that we can give to workers who have lost their jobs. But as I said, in the first instance this is for the Port Kembla BlueScope workers.
TONY ARTHUR: It’s three to nine on Summer Breakfast, and joining us at the moment is the Federal Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash. The Illawarra Business Chamber, Senator, wants entrepreneurial advisors, that is people to look for future job opportunities linked to innovation strategies. Is this something you could look at?
MINISTER CASH: I think that’s absolutely fantastic, because when you look at what’s actually occurring, this is all about the Federal Government focusing on not just creating the jobs of tomorrow through our free trade agreements et cetera, but also looking at how we can retrain people so that they can take up those jobs of tomorrow. So in terms of say the Illawarra employment facilitator, they’re going to work obviously on the ground to assist retrenched workers in finding a job say over the next 18 months, but in particular what they’re going to be doing is helping employees with job applications, with interview skills, with training to obtain qualifications, for example tickets or licences, work experience. And then again other assistance to help them find new employment that is best suited to their specific circumstances. So it’s very much working on the ground at a very grass-roots level, helping job seekers reconnect with employment and training opportunities as quickly as possible.
TONY ARTHUR: How soon will that person then be at grass-roots level and on the ground locally?
MINISTER CASH: My understanding is that the department is actively looking for the employment facilitator at the moment. But again, it is all about getting on the ground as quickly as possible, because the sooner that you can get someone retrained and into a job the better off everybody is going to be.
TONY ARTHUR: And one of my listeners has called to sort of say surely we aren’t looking at giving more financial help to BlueScope when they haven’t been paying any taxes. Your reaction to that?
MINISTER CASH: Look well I think BlueScope do pay their taxes, and certainly I don’t agree with that analysis. But this is all about assistance that is specifically targeted to help BlueScope workers affected by the job losses connect with a wide range of services. So this is not about BlueScope as such, this is about those BlueScope workers, it’s helping Port Kembla BlueScope workers. That is a good thing, and I think even as you’ve said the union acknowledges and has welcomed the Government’s $670,000 adjustment package. This is about the workers and ensuring that they continue to be workers going forward.
TONY ARTHUR: Alright. Very kind of you as the clock ticks up to six AM in Perth to talk to us this morning. We do appreciate you taking our call.
MINISTER CASH: My absolute pleasure, good on you.
TONY ARTHUR: Federal Minister for Employment Senator Michaela Cash joining us from Perth on this announcement by the Federal Government to provide the financial package to assist retrenched BlueScope workers.