When corporations choose where to base their business, how much of their decision should focus on the needs of the local community? A new bill aimed at developing local talent might make that decision for them.
Following recommendations earlier this year to ban mining corporations from relying only on fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers, a bill has been introduced to the Queensland Parliament to ensure locals aren’t cut out of the equation. The Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Bill 2016 compels resource companies to create workforce plans to maximise job opportunities for local workers, as well as supply training aimed at developing local talent to qualify for the jobs available. It also aims to ensure that local businesses are included in tenders for contracts, as part of a company’s supply chain provision.
FIFO is the practice of transporting a workforce to a site (usually remote) where they complete shift work on-site and then are often housed by corporations near to their place of work. It’s a practice that’s common in the resources industry, particularly in Queensland.
The bill means that any new and existing mines within 100km of towns with a population of 200 or more, may no longer be able to employ only FIFO shift workers.
The introduction of the bill raises questions about the extent that corporations have responsibility towards local communities, particularly in regional areas that continue to lose residents migrating to urban centres, and where local economies are often inextricably linked to large-scale industries and corporations. It also highlights the extent to which the issue of corporate relationships with local regional areas has become politicised.
Though only two mines in Queensland have purportedly utilised an 100 per cent FIFO workforce according to resource industry sources, the bill clearly puts mining companies under scrutiny about their employment and discrimination policies. Considered a blanket solution to a practice employed by a small number of facilities, the bill sends a signal to resource companies to act responsibly by actively employing local workers, as well as supplying training programs for developing local talent.
In an article published by the ABC in late 2015, the Queensland Parliamentary Chair Jim Pearce said that one of the biggest issues facing mines was their refusal to employ locals.
“100 per cent FIFO is just not accepted by anybody in regional Queensland,” he states. “Everybody in Queensland should be considered for a position, regardless of where they live.”
Moranbah resident Sarah Atkins, who was based in central Queensland, told the ABC she was forced to move to find work because the BMA mining company’s nearby Caval Ridge and Daunia mines did not focus on developing local talent. “By making it 100 per cent fly in fly out, it’s absolutely killing our town,” she explains.
Mayor of the Isaac region Anne Baker agrees. “Locals can’t work in the mines they live alongside, families are forced out of town, businesses close down and the effects flow on.”
Some members of Queensland’s resource community have pushed back against what they view as more regulation. To further complicate the matter, there’s also evidence that FIFO work isn’t great for the workers who do it. Research shows that it negatively impacts on the family life of employees as well as their mental health.
There are signs of change, however. In the Cloncurry region of Queensland, a recent joint venture between corporations Altona Mining and Sichuan Railway Investment Group has committed to develop a drive in, drive out roster for workers in nearby Gulf communities and Mount Isa, allowing the state’s entire north west region to benefit from the $330 million investment.
Cloncurry’s Mayor sees the project as an important instance of local communities being welcomed into the resource industry.
“We’ve just got to work with these mining companies now to to make sure that they get the right level of local employment on the mine sites, whatever they can buy locally, that they support our local businesses and support our local economy.”