FIFO complicated but here to stay
Wednesday 08 March 2017
A Queensland Parliamentary Committee charged with looking at the fine print and practicality of a bill tabled in Parliament last year to stop 100% FIFO, has recommended the removal of some critical definitions.
The Infrastructure, Planning and Resources Committee (IPRC) has recommended that instead of "local" meaning someone living within 100 kilometres of a mine, and a "regional community" being a town of at least 200 people, the IPRC recommends the Co-ordinator General should now decide what those terms mean.
The IPRC has also recommended that the FIFO Bill be expanded to cover all resource projects, not just the “large” ones as was previously the case.
The removal of these definitions makes the bill even less definitive, and will instantly add dozens of pages to any social impact assessments, as legal teams representing mining companies, unions, and anyone else who has an interest, seeks to justify their interpretation of thos key definitions.
The changes add to the growing bureaucratic monster and legal risk that is the Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Bill.
Worse still, it will not make a scrap of difference to FIFO in the communities it is supposed to be protecting.
Here are the main reasons why.
Firstly, the IPRC recognises that under the FIFO bill, a mine only has to have a single person employed from a “local community” to be approved.
“It's recognised that the prohibition of 100 per cent FIFO practices will have limited application,” the IPRC wrote.
“The legislation would not preclude a high percentage of FIFO workers being employed.”
So for a large operation employing 1000 people in the Bowen Basin, the bill is happy if just 0.001% of the workforce is local.
Secondly, the IPRC concedes the bill leaves the door open to 100% FIFO, where the mines owners can argue that it's just too dangerous for miners to be driving to and from site after 12 hours on the tools.
“There could be circumstances where fatigue management requirements would preclude local workers from a daily commute to the resource project site,” they wrote
“For example, even though a local worker may live within a 100km straight-line radius from the resource project, varying road conditions may risk worker safety if they were to commute from work each day."
However as everyone knows, safety trumps all other arguments in mining all the time, so watch out for massive legal debates over fatigue.
Thirdly, at the heart of this bill is a desire that everyone has a chance of working at a mine irrespective of where they live.
However, the onus of proof is on the employer to explain why they employ one person over another, and if they haven't got the paperwork to prove it they can be liable for upwards of a $1 million.
So a disgruntled local can (and they will) take legal action to argue that they were passed over for a job simply because they were local. The employer will then have to provide a paperwork trail illustrating the myriad reasons they could have chosen one person over another.
But the list goes on.
Like who decides when the skills required cannot be found locally, greenlighting a 100% FIFO workforce?
What happens when a miner decides to relocate away from the Bowen Basin and commute to work to give their kids an educational opportunity, will that put their job at risk?
What about the anti-discrimination legal minefield that will exist for jobs that stipulate “residential only”, which are everywhere at the moment?
QRC Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane shared these concerns, arguing yesterday's report will deliver further bureaucracy.
"This Bill will add unnecessary extra red-tape to our sector’s operations, and lower the state’s competitiveness, at a time when the sector is rebounding, and more jobs are coming onto the market.
"It is worth noting that of the (nearly) 50 operating coal mines in Queensland, just two were originally designed as 100 per cent FIFO mines.
"These two mines were approved as FIFO mines by the previous Labor Bligh government at a time when the sector was at its peak, and there was an extreme shortage of skilled workers to fill jobs.
"However, since operations began at these two mines, both now use local contractors to service the mines and are therefore no longer 100 per cent FIFO."
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