property industry encourages refinery workers to join construction and real estate
Image: Canva.
  • Industry bodies note refinery workers likely have transferrable skills for the housing and construction industries.
  • Over 6,000 Perth jobs in the property and building industries are currently being advertised.
  • The WA State Government has stepped up to support those impacted by the curtailment.

Yesterday, Alcoa announced plans to fully curtail production in 2024 at the company’s Kwinana Alumina Refinery in Western Australia, with the process commencing in the second quarter.

Alcoa’s executive vice president and chief operations officer, Matt Reed, cited several reasons behind the curtailment of the 60-year-old facility included age, scale, operating costs, and current bauxite grades, in addition to current market conditions.

“Today’s curtailment decision comes only after thorough and careful deliberation, and we acknowledge that this action will impact workers, business partners, and the community,” Reed said.

“We deeply appreciate the commitment and support of our many loyal employees, contractors, and suppliers at our Kwinana refinery, which has made a major contribution to Western Australia’s economic development over the last 60 years of continual operation.”

The Kwinana refinery curtailment will see a phased reduction of the workforce from around 800 employees at the start of 2024 to approximately 250 in the third quarter of this year, when all alumina production will cease. Certain processes, however, will continue until about the third quarter of 2025, when employee numbers will be further reduced to approximately 50.

“We will work closely with our employees to provide support with transitioning to other opportunities,” Reed said.

“This includes potential redeployment within our business or assistance to facilitate employment at other workplaces.”

Disappointment expressed by parliamentarians

Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Madeleine King, and the Cook Government have expressed disappointment over the decision to curtail production at the Kwinana Alumina Refinery.

“As the local member representing many of the workers at Alcoa Kwinana, I am extremely disappointed and my thoughts are with those workers and their families as they are the people most severely affected by this decision,” Minister King said.

“We understand that Alcoa is faced with difficult considerations, including the age of the facility, a constrained location and challenging market conditions, however, the closure of such a longstanding operation is disheartening for everyone involved.

“I expect that Alcoa will do everything it can to ensure workers affected and their families receive all the support they need during this difficult time, and I will hold them to account on this.”

Minister King added that:

“It is important to note that this decision by Alcoa does not affect Australia’s or Western Australia’s sovereign capacity in alumina production, as Alcoa will continue operations at both the Wagerup and Pinjarra refineries.

“I have been assured by Alcoa that the curtailment of production at the Kwinana refinery will not affect the broader supply chain of alumina, which is essential for our future transition towards net zero emissions.

“The Australian Government has classified High Purity Alumina as a critical mineral and aluminium as a strategic material.”

Opportunities on the horizon

Western Australian Premier Roger Cook said his government will ensure workers impacted by the curtailment will be supported.

“My Government will step up to provide supports for local workers to retrain, reskill and look for new career opportunities in the local area,” said Premier Cook.

“Kwinana is the industrial heart of Perth, and has a bright future with new job-creating industrial projects emerging on the strip – keeping Kwinana strong for generations to come.”

Training and Workforce Development Minister, Simone McGurk added that:

“Our Jobs and Skills Centres offer free services for jobseekers, from job-matching to training and career advice – and we have specialist local staff on standby to assist displaced workers.

“My message to affected employees is to take advantage of the help on offer – there have never been more opportunities to upskill, reskill, or forge a new career path.”

The Cook Government noted that the Rockingham Jobs and Skills Centre is ready to work with Alcoa to match affected staff with employers in Kwinana and surrounding areas and that a dedicated team at South Metropolitan TAFE is on standby to support displaced workers with tailored free career and training advice.

Property and building industry bodies encourage impacted workers to consider the sectors

Following the curtailment announcement, the Property Council WA and Housing Industry Association (HIA) issued a joint statement, encouraging workers impacted by the closure of the refinery to consider careers in the property and construction sectors.

The industries currently have over 6,000 jobs advertised across property and construction, with the bodies noting the sectors offer a secure career and strong pipeline of work.

“This is an incredibly difficult and uncertain time for workers impacted by the planned closure of Alcoa’s Kwinana refinery,” said Property Council WA’s interim executive director, Emily Young.

“The property and construction industries, however, are ready to welcome these workers with open arms.

“The skills and experience these workers have are highly sought after by the property and construction industries, which can offer diverse, exciting careers and a strong pipeline of work.”

Emily Young, Property Council WA

“From electricians and welders to boilermakers and industrial painters, there are thousands of jobs currently on offer in Perth’s property and construction industries.

“By joining our industries, you will not only enjoy a stable and prosperous career, but you’ll also help build the housing needed to put a roof over the head of every West Australian.

“We welcome the WA Government’s commitment to helping Alcoa workers reskill themselves for other sectors. Free TAFE courses are already on offer to help workers jump start their new careers.”

HIA executive director – WA, Michael McGowan added that the housing and construction industry is full of opportunity and rewarding experiences.

“1,000 extra workers could help the state build 1,000 extra houses each year.”

Michael McGowan, HIA WA

“With 27,000 houses under construction, there are opportunities for electricians, carpenters and other skilled workers to join the residential building industry, which would be welcomed.

“Many of those who have been affected probably cut their teeth on a residential building site, giving them experience and helps to ease the transition.

“The Kwinana area continues to rejuvenate and is located near Perth’s growth corridors, ensuring a steady pipeline of work for those considering joining a residential building team.”

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