Sub workers offered lifeline but no guarantees on local jobs

Premier Steven Marshall has pledged new roles for “any or all” of the 350 Naval Group workers in South Australia whose jobs have been thrown into doubt by yesterday’s “major pivot” on Australia’s submarine contract, but the Government remains vague on whether a local employment component can now be safeguarded.

Sep 17, 2021, updated Sep 17, 2021
Steven Marshall today flanked by senator Simon Birmingham and ASC chair Bruce Carter. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Steven Marshall today flanked by senator Simon Birmingham and ASC chair Bruce Carter. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Shipbuilder ASC today reached out to Naval workers with chair Bruce Carter declaring there were 150 roles waiting to be filled right now, with many more to follow in the wake of confirmation yesterday that the Collins Class sustainment program would remain in SA.

“ASC is committed to finding roles for skilled shipbuilding workers impacted by this announcement,” he said after PM Scott Morrison yesterday tore up Australia’s contract with Naval to build a fleet of 12 Attack Class submarines, instead committing to an 18-month reconnaissance before a new deal is struck to instead build a fleet of nuclear-powered subs.

“We have implemented a process which will provide all affected employees with the opportunity to transition into positions within ASC or the wider industry.”

Carter said “ASC underpins that industry and is pleased that the uncertainty that has sat in our industry in relation to a couple of issues has been clarified”.

“We now have a way forward to developing a whole new industry in this country [and] we’ll look very carefully at what’s happening at Naval and other areas that were involved in the Attack Class,” he said.

“We will reach out to all the people involved with that, and welcome them into ASC if they’d like to come here.”

Marshall said his “strong message to [Naval workers] is we want you to remain in SA”.

“Of course we know it’s tough times down at the Naval Group at the moment – the workforce there are obviously shocked with this news,” he told reporters at ASC’s Osborne shipyards today.

“But the team at ASC is reaching out now, and they’ll take all – or any – of the staff down here because there’s so much work coming.”

Asked to clarify, he repeated: “Any or all.”

“The reality is we need every single person, hands on deck, at the moment,” he said.

“We certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with the Naval Group and will give them every opportunity to stay right here in SA.”

But while much was made of a commitment to a 60 per cent quota of local jobs in the French subs deal, Marshall and SA senator and government senate leader Simon Birmingham were noncommittal about whether an equivalent jobs guarantee could be replicated in the next contract.

“Well, obviously there’s still a huge amount  of work to be done with regards to exactly and precisely what this new submarine capability is going to be,” Marshall said.

“But the federal government has already modelled that by 2030 there’ll be 5000 people working here in SA on these new programs and platforms… we’ve got a fantastic ecosystem for local shipbuilding, as well as many other areas of the defence industry.

“The federal government will obviously respond to what the new contract arrangements are… but what I know is SA has got the very best in terms of workforce, but also in terms of supply chain.”

He said yesterday’s announcement was “all about shoring up our defences as a nation”.

“It was a major, major pivot as a nation,” he said.

“In many ways what we have in our state at the moment are skills shortages – there are so many jobs, just so many jobs in SA.”

He insisted he had already fielded calls from defence industry companies interested in hiring displaced Naval workers.

“We’ve been told by companies that they need those people,” he said.

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“They’re keen to work with Naval Group and transition people [and] we’re working with Defence SA to find every single person a job.”

Birmingham was also coy about jobs guarantees, but said “the UK and the US have embraced this at a country-to-country level, not a company-to-company level… because they want to see the capability established in Australia not just to own and operate nuclear submarines but to be able to build and sustain them”.

“I have absolute confidence the partnership will deliver the maximum possible industry content for Australian businesses… because that maximum capability is essential to sustainment in the long run,” he said.

Carter said there would be strong local content even without a contractual obligation.

“We’re an island – you’ve got to have the highest local content possible,” he said.

“There’s no good having spare parts in other parts of the world and then you can’t get them here.”

He said in the current Collins Class submarines 90 per cent of the components were built locally.

“It’s not a matter of the contracts, it’s just the strategic capability,” he said.

“If you’re an island you need to be able to build all the parts that make up a submarine here [and] I am sure when these machines and these boats are designed, indigenous capacity will be top of mind.

“There won’t be a need to build them into a contract… you need to build to sustain.”

But Carter was equivocal about exactly how many Naval workers would be able to be employed from the broader workforce in the immediate term.

“We’re going to have to take on a whole new infrastructure and a plan to bring these people in,” he said.

He urged employees to leave their details with ASC through its website but noted “we’ve got to work through our own workplan”.

“But it’s really important to keep this team together,” he said.

Carter was also uncertain exactly what ASC’s role might be in the nuclear submarine program, but was adamant “we already have existing relationships in the US and UK through Collins”.

“The body of ability and technical skills sits within ASC [so] I’d be confident ASC will have a role, a strong role, in what’s coming down the line,” he said.

“But that’s yet to be developed and it’s still some time off.”

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