Kalbarri restaurant loses lifeline to feed Western Power workers in the wake of Cyclone Seroja

Charlotte EltonGeraldton Guardian
The Dirt Dust N Diesels restaurant in Kalbarri before Cyclone Seroja.
Camera IconThe Dirt Dust N Diesels restaurant in Kalbarri before Cyclone Seroja. Credit: Yvonne McKenzie

A Kalbarri business has been left “desperate” after an arrangement to feed Western Power recovery workers was cancelled at the last minute.

The Dirt Dust N Diesels restaurant in Kalbarri was badly damaged when cyclone Seroja slammed the town two weeks ago.

Owners thought they had received a “lifeline” when Western Power approached the restaurant to feed its emergency workers but were left shell-shocked when the agreement was pulled just days before it was due to begin.

The blow was shattering, said Dirt Dust N Diesels manager Beverly Lane.

“On Tuesday, we got a phone call from Western Power cancelling the contract,” Ms Lane said.

“Western Power said that the union had requested that the workers be given money vouchers instead, so that they could choose what they eat.”

Ms Lane described cancellation of the arrangement as a “heavy blow” for the embattled restaurant.

“I mean, we’ve been devastated by the cyclone. We don’t even know when the next tourist is going to come through the door, so we don’t have a business,” she said.

We got our hopes up, thinking thank goodness, we’ve got a lifeline to see us through.

“And now, thanks to the unions, we’ve had that pulled out from under us at all.”

Ms Lane said that she “couldn’t fault” the Western Power employees, who “couldn’t be doing more” for Kalbarri.

But she insisted the decision would benefit “no one”.

Cyclone damage at Kalbarri.
Camera IconCyclone damage at Kalbarri. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

However, the Electrical Trade Union — the union representing Western Power workers — defended the switch to vouchers.

“As of tomorrow (Friday), the Western Power workers will be paid an allowance to go anywhere in the community,” ETU assistant State secretary Brendan Rees said.

In doing so, they’ll be putting money back into the community, which is desperately needed.

“Like anyone, our workers have dietary and cultural preferences for their food. Some like to cook for themselves, others will use the vouchers at a café.”

Western Power denied that it had ever had a “formal” contract with the restaurant, instead saying that it had an “informal arrangement.”

“Reviewing our catering provisions at this stage of the recovery is part of our process to ensure its effective and works for our employees,” a spokesperson said.

“While we support local businesses where we can, it’s the reason we don’t have any formal contracts with local residents or businesses regarding catering.

The spokesperson also defended the switch to vouchers.

“We have around 200 employees on the ground in the Mid West and how we accommodate, feed, transport and keep them safe is always a priority,” a spokesperson said.

“With many crews now on the ground and more set to be deployed in the coming weeks, providing a meal allowance is logistically more effective, provides greater choice for employees and is normal business process.”

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