War of words continues between company and union

Jacinta CantatoreHarvey-Waroona Reporter
An aerial shot of Albemarle’s Kemerton site.
Camera IconAn aerial shot of Albemarle’s Kemerton site.

The stoush between the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and Albemarle has been long publicised in the Harvey-Waroona Reporter as we followed WA’s next big industry being built on our doorstep.

We first reported on the global lithium giant in December 2017, when the company submitted plans for environmental approval.

When initial approvals were granted, Albemarle held a community forum (July 11, 2018) and the South West crowd was told there would be jobs for locals.

In April 2019, when building began, vice-president of lithium business David Klanecky said he wanted people working on the site that lived close by.

By June 2019 AMWU State secretary Steve McCartney told the Reporterthat Albemarle was bringing labour from Perth for the site’s earth works.

“Where are the local jobs and where is the local manufacturing? They’re reneging on local jobs and they’ve reneged on talking to unions to get a decent agreement there.”

An Albemarle spokesman said “given the complexity of the construction and commissioning, it will require a range of skills and capabilities over coming months and years.”

Things hotted up in July 2019 when protesters from trade unions and local business rallied outside the company’s construction site, saying they had lost out on work on the project.

AMWU members at a meeting about jobs at Albemarle's Kemerton lithium refinery.
Camera IconAMWU members at a meeting about jobs at Albemarle's Kemerton lithium refinery. Credit: AMWU.

An Albemarle spokesperson again knocked the claims, saying “more than 70 per cent of Albemarle’s current operational workforce is employed from the South West region, and we expect the percentage of local workforce to increase as production begins.”

In August 2019 market pressures forced the company to scale back expansion at the refinery, reducing projected initial output from 75,000 tonnes per annum to 50,000 tonnes, yet the company said “construction and hiring of employees for the site continues”.

By January 2020, Albemarle said 60 per cent of the project’s operational workforce had been recruited from the South West — lower than the 70 per cent of six months earlier.

However, this came at a time when the company was making an effort to secure more local workers through South West training providers, with “up to 500 contractors engaged in the construction of this significant project for the region”.

In September 2020 the company launched a recruitment drive, encouraging locals to apply.

But nine months of COVID had seen the company withdraw its projections, saying only 300 workers would be needed when the site begins production in late 2021. It’s now mid-May 2021 and the AMWU has again laid claims against the company, and Albemarle has again hit back.

With months of construction left, and a projected 30-50 years for the refinery, this is not the last we’ll hear from these two players.

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