Hot water to boost jobs
The campaign, which was launched in Morwell last week, seeks to find 100,000 people to become members of the cooperative and to use the funds to establish the factory.
Membership of the cooperative costs $20 and the project has already received backing from unions, community groups, councils and faith-based organisations.
Earthworker spokesperson Dave Kerin said the cooperative had already developed a business plan and picked out a site in Morwell.
“The plan is we would be there for a couple of years and as we’re working we would look at a purpose-built factory,” Mr Kerin said.
“We’d apply to a super fund to build that for us and our business plan shows over a five-year period we can pay that back.”
The factory is expected to provide 50 jobs and function as a worker-owned cooperative.
Mr Kerin said the project would use its union connections to secure market share by having solar hot water services included as part of a worker’s wages during enterprise bargaining negotiations.
“That’s better than money in their back pocket, because it’s 26 per cent of your household bill they’ve taken care of,” he said.
“The other gains we get are the wealth creating jobs (and) the training for our young people coming into those jobs.”
Mr Kerin said because the factory would function as a workers’ cooperative there was no chance of the jobs moving offshore.
The project will also aim to contribute to the community by achieving social justice outcomes.
“We want to put five per cent of the surplus or profit towards social justice and in this project we’ve always talked about youth homelessness and the aged-care waiting list for hospital, dental and optical,” he said.
“We (also) want to make sure a percentage of any intake (of workers) is young Koori kids, so real wealth creating jobs for our indigenous population.”
Mr Kerin said the project had received support from both sides of politics at the state and federal level, but had been unable to secure funding because it did not meet funding criteria for existing grant schemes.
After establishing the first solar hot water factory in Morwell the cooperative has plans to establish further factories and eventually move into manufacturing renewable energy components.Mr Kerin said he has had positive discussions with all three tiers of government.
Wellington Shire councillor Beth Ripper attended the launch and said the project would help address problems affecting the wider Gippsland area.
“There are large numbers of people who travel to the Valley particularly every week and week and work in the energy industry,” Cr Ripper said.
“So a downturn in the jobs in the Valley is going to have a huge impact on our communities.”
She said the creation of new jobs and training opportunities would also keep young people in the region.
“We’ve always got problems with the loss of students who finish school here and go off somewhere else,” Cr Ripper said.
“Anything that is going to develop local jobs, keep the money in the community is going to benefit the future here.”
The proposal has also drawn backing from white collar unions, with NTEU state secretary Colin Long declaring the project was “extremely important” to his members.
“We don’t have members, obviously, in the power industry or manufacturing but we have members who integrally involved in research around renewable energy, so for us it’s vital,” Mr Long said.
“Everyone’s affected by climate change and as a white-collar union we’ve got some responsibility to ensure blue-collar workers are not displaced by changes.”