Unions want job guarantees for coal workers in the shift to low carbon industries.

“There is going to be a big construction of renewable energy,” national research officer for the Maritime Union of Australia Penny Howard said at a recent national union conference in NSW.

“A lot of that will be built off the coast - floating, offshore wind turbines.”

The Illawarra is one of five Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) in NSW.

The state's energy minister Matt Kean says the government has received $43 billion worth of potential investments in the Illawarra REZ in the form of 44 proposed projects. Of these, 10 are wind developments, including eight offshore wind farms.

The Illawarra has also been identified as one of six regions for offshore wind energy generation by the federal government. 

“We will need seafarers, we will need a lot of electricians, we will need a lot of other tradespeople to put the turbines together, to install and maintain the generators and to repair the blades,” Ms Howard said. 

“It is an enormous problem that there's been no transition plan, authority, none of that infrastructure at either the NSW government, national or regional level.

“It's a problem we need to take up as soon as possible.

“We need a strong government program that looks at the skills of those workers, the training they might need.

“There's probably income support that will be needed and then making sure they've got a job guarantee that ensures they can get employment in those new industries.”

Ms Howard said unions should continue to play a role in supporting workers during the transition, as well as in the renewable sector.

“Of course, we need to put requirements on those new industries, to ensure they're providing good, secure, permanent employment and they're not just going to use sub-contracting and poor labour standards,” she said.

“No worker should be left behind.

“It is a social imperative that we deal with that collectively and make sure that workers who have spent their lives in coal mines can move across.”