Fine dining and luxury living draw workers to remote Outback mines
In the scorching mining sites of the Outback, the hours are long and the flies relentless. Today, in a bid to attract skilled workers and overcome a labor shortage, Australian iron ore companies are turning to Olympic-sized swimming pools, virtual golf halls and gourmet restaurants. .
When production begins at Mineral Resources’ Ashburton Iron Ore Center in mid-2023, staff will be offered what they call resort-style accommodation twice the size of the industry average, including a queen-size bed, a kitchen and a living room. And to overcome the constraints of remote work, a full-time mental health consultant will be at your disposal.
“We want to know how to make sure we keep the people who work for us with us until they retire,” said the CEO of the company, Chris Ellison, noted.
Meanwhile, the mining giants are also improving their game. BHP Group’s South Flank, whose production began in June, includes a workers’ village with a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, an indoor golf course and a range of bars and restaurants.
And the Rio Tinto group is looking for workers for its $ 2.6 billion Gudai-Darri project, which is due to start early next year, promising them a comfortable life and high-speed connectivity at a site where workers ” will respect each other sincerely ”.
This is a far cry from the industry’s traditional image of so-called flying workers – arriving by plane to work in mines in the desert for weeks on end – being offered accommodation at testosterone-like sites, heavy loads – drinking boot camps and sleeping in tiny rooms called dongas after grueling 12 hour shifts.
The industry is also trying to clean up its sites after being attacked over sexual harassment complaints made by women. BHP fired dozens of workers after verifying the claims, including substantiated rape allegations. Rio has also responded with measures to improve worker safety at its mines, including a buddy system, increased supervision and training, shorter lists and a four-drink-a-day limit on alcohol consumption. BHP also has a four-drink cut off at its sites.
“We’re trying to make the sites more flexible to attract a more diverse workforce,” Ellison said.
Mining companies know that the ability to attract workers to their sites and then keep them is critical. Despite a historic plunge in iron ore prices this week to a 16-month low of $ 90, major miners like BHP and Rio continue to profit as their cost of production can be below $ 20 a tonne.
They are also used to volatile price fluctuations, so their search for talent is unlikely to change at this time. Iron ore is responsible for about a third of Australia’s export earnings, a record A $ 152 billion ($ 110 billion) as of June 30, while the industry employs around 280,000 people. .
A recent report showed that Western Australia’s resource industry must attract up to 40,000 additional workers over the next two years, or risk delays and potential postponement of some A $ 140 billion in projects. . This challenge has been further complicated by state border closures to prevent Covid-19, while workers are also often wanted to work in highly skilled industries such as technology and finance, despite the fact that one offers them wages about double the national average in mining.
For Mineral Resources, it’s not just about attracting and keeping the best workers: Ellison says it’s just as important to provide a safe and comfortable environment that promotes the mental well-being of employees. The company breaks the mold by planning to build suitable housing for couples and families, seeking to get them to reside permanently and play an active role in the local community.
Yet the bulk of the Western Australian mine site workforce is destined to remain tied to their homes and families based hundreds of miles away, and from whom they must remain physically away for sometimes. weeks at a time. head of mental health at Mineral Resources, Chris Harris, said airline workers suffered twice as much psychological distress as other Australian workers.
“Some of these challenges are just the nature of the industry,” Harris said. “The question is: how do we help people overcome these challenges? “