CANBERRA, April 15 (Reuters) - Australia’s powerful union movement threatened on Friday to withdraw support for a planned carbon tax unless the government ensured that no jobs would be lost under the scheme.
The warnings from the Australian Workers Union (AWU), and the peak union body the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), adds new pressures on the minority Labor government as it tries to work out a starting price for the carbon tax.
“If one job is gone, our support is gone,” AWU national secretary and leading Labor Party powerbroker Paul Howes told The Australian newspaper.
Power generators and exporters such as steel-makers, miners and liquefied natural gas producers have warned of job losses if the government implements a carbon tax without also awarding them major compensation to cushion the blow.
ACTU national secretary Jeff Lawrence backed the stance of the AWU, Australia’s largest manufacturing union, saying unions supported the principle of a carbon tax but were also determined to protect jobs.
The union movement is the natural ally of Labor Party Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who needs the support of three independents and the Greens to pass laws through parliament.
The government wants the carbon tax to start in July 2012, with a move to an emissions trading scheme three to five years later, in order to curb emissions and fight global warming.
But important details of the tax have yet to be worked out, including compensation for companies and householders, and which companies will be covered by the scheme.
A multi-party committee on the carbon policy will meet next week, with media reports suggesting the government wants a low carbon price of around A$20 ($21) a tonne, but with the Greens pushing for a higher starting price.
Independent lawmaker Tony Windsor has also said he would vote against the carbon tax unless he was sure it would be effective in cutting emissions.
Greens climate spokeswoman Chrstine Milne said the multi-party committee had yet to decide on a price for the carbon tax.
Treasurer Wayne Swan moved to calm the union concerns, and said the carbon scheme aimed to protect jobs in the long term.
“We have to go to lower carbon emissions, there’s no choice. We have to make the transition to a lower carbon emissions economy,” Swan told Australian radio from the United States.
“Nothing could be more important to jobs in Australia and the future than making that transition.”
$1 = 0.949 Australian Dollars Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Mark Bendeich