Union vows to fight on following BP closure call

Chloe FraserSound Telegraph
The BP refinery in Kwinana.
Camera IconThe BP refinery in Kwinana. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

The Australian Workers’ Union WA says it refuses to accept the closure of BP’s Kwinana refinery, as workers claim they’ve been treated like they’re “disposable”.

BP last week announced it would close the 65-year-old refinery and convert it to a fuel import terminal, putting almost 600 employees out of work.

Union State secretary Brad Gandy said the “disastrous and heartless” decision had left workers utterly blindsided, and that the union would be “working and implementing every lever we have to keep it open”.

In a statement released last Friday, BP Australia’s Frederic Baudry said regional oversupply and sustained low refining margins meant the Kwinana refinery was “no longer economically viable”.

He said the refinery, the biggest in Australia, could not compete with “large-scale, export oriented refineries throughout Asia and the Middle East”.

“Converting to an import terminal will not impact the safe and reliable supply of quality fuel products to Western Australia; however, it will require fewer people to run,” Mr Baudry said.

“We deeply regret the job losses that will result and will do everything we can to support our people through the transition.”

There are currently 400 permanent staff and 250 contractors employed at the facility. Refining activities will wind down over the next six months and construction of the new terminal will continue through to 2022. The new import terminal will support just 60 jobs.

Kwinana BP refinery
Camera IconKwinana BP refinery Credit: Sharon Smith/The West Australian, Sharon Smith

Brand MHR Madeleine King, whose father worked at the refinery for 30 years, said the closure was a “devastating blow”.

“The BP oil refinery in Kwinana has driven the WA economy since it began operations in the 1950s,” she said. “It is devastating for the 600 skilled workers set to lose their jobs ... it is devastating for the fuel security position of Australia and WA.”

Kwinana mayor Carol Adams said Kwinana was established as a suburb for BP workers as part of the refinery’s construction and the decision to close would have a dramatic impact on the City’s future.

Cr Adams said while the State Government had offered to provide a dedicated team at the South Metropolitan TAFE’s Jobs and Skills Centre to support workers with advice and training options, she was concerned that it would not be enough to address the employment shortfall in the City.

“Our City is already experiencing heightened unemployment issues and the loss of these jobs will put significant strain on existing resources in the area,” she said.

A BP worker, who asked not to be named for fear of losing her redundancy package, said the decision came “out of the blue” and workers were notified via text message.

“I can’t really explain what feels like,” she said.

“We were classed as essential workers throughout COVID ... it feels like we’ve gone from essential to disposable.”

Premier Mark McGowan said BP must honour its commitment to help workers find new jobs in the sector.

“The State Government has repeatedly called on BP to continue its operations at the refinery, but the company has made this decision for commercial reasons after years of significant financial losses.

“The State Government has an expectation that BP will honour its commitment to do everything possible to find alternative work arrangements for those who want it.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Federal Government was deeply disappointed by the news of the closure of the refinery, but said it would not have a negative impact on Australian fuel supplies.

“Our comprehensive Fuel Security Package, announced in the 2020-21 Budget, will enhance Australia’s long-term fuel supply,” he said.

“We will ensure Australia maintains a sovereign refining capability to support local industry, meet our nation’s needs during an emergency, and protect motorists from future higher prices.”

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