As the floods recede, workers are being sold down the river

This week’s floods in New South Wales are a warning of things to come—and of what we must do to support workers through the challenges of climate change.

Almost 24,000 people have been evacuated during the floods. As of Wednesday, the New South Wales State Emergency Service had received more than 11,000 calls for assistance. Rescue workers have helped aged care residents evacuate from their homes, retrieved families from their properties and saved individuals from rising floodwaters.

At Port Macquarie, Fire and Rescue NSW specialists had to remove snakes from a life raft as they waded a kilometre in total darkness to find a family with four young children stranded on their property.

On the NSW South Coast, communities still recovering from last summer’s horrific bushfires are now watching floodwaters stream through towns and landscapes that blazed barely 14 months ago. The view from the Cobargo pub, then and now, says all you need know about these dramatic and devastating weather events.

Events like fire and flood are going to increase in their frequency, intensity and severity across the coming years and decades. Warming oceans lead to higher evaporation rates, and to more moisture in weather systems. In climate scientist Joëlle Gergis’ words, “this makes wet seasons and wet events wetter than usual”.

“So while Australia has always experienced floods, disasters like the one unfolding in NSW are likely to become more frequent and intense as climate change continues,” Gergis writes this week in The Conversation.

With the exception of the Morrison Government, Australia talks a lot about climate change. Scientists have spent decades explaining what its impacts could look like, and the urgent need to act on carbon emissions, species loss, and saving our ecosystem. Teenagers have gone on strike demanding adults act for their future. And entrepreneurs are full of bright ideas for how technology can save us (just don’t ask them to pay their fair share in tax).

We hear less from our politicians about what climate change means for workers, unless it’s from career public servant-turned-politician Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, decked out in hi-vis and a hard hat for his many photo ops. But working Australians are part of the community facing the impacts of climate change. They will also be on the frontline, facing natural disasters and building the infrastructure that will see us into a carbon-neutral future.

Meanwhile, last week, the Prime Minister flew into Portland, in Victoria’s Western Districts, to make—you guessed it—a big announcement: this time funding to save the town’s Alcoa aluminium smelter.

But the Morrison Government has left another local employer in the lurch. Portland engineering firm Keppel Prince is the only manufacturer of wind towers on the Australian mainland. Now 42 employees have already lost their jobs, and 100 more are on the line, after this Government refused to mandate local steel on a $360 million wind farm project down the coast in Port Fairy.

“The Morrison Government should put their money where their mouth is and fix this and fix it now. At a minimum, requiring 40 percent of the project use local steel and manufacturing will keep these Keppel Prince workers in their jobs,” Australian Metal Workers’ Union National Secretary Steve Murphy said.

Mandated local content quotas in manufacturing has been a key demand from Australian Unions as part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its plans to ‘green’ the economy. It’s good for workers, and it’s good for the planet.

But try telling that to the Coalition. Under Morrison and co, we’re all being sold down the river when it comes to climate change.

Do Something powerful

Date Published: 26/03/2021 Category: Opinion Workers rights Working life

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