Gap widens for mining workforce
Wednesday 02 November 2016
Lack of any recognition of their achievements is the latest in a long list of grievances among the growing group of miners currently employed casually in the mining sector.
Using casual employees to fill short-term variable work demands is an important - and often mutually beneficial - part of the modern employment landscape across every industry including mining.
However informed, high-level managers in mining companies are now conceding privately that the current volume of casual or labour hire in mining is not sustainable.
“No one really knows, but my guess is that more than half the mining workforce is now on extended casual contracts,” one 20 year veteran of the sector told Shift Miner.
“This industry has always had ups and downs, but it’s the first time that I’ve ever seen levels of casuals like this.
“But it’s not just the fault of mining companies, the whole industrial relations process, including the role of the CFMEU, has become so combative that companies feel like they have no other way to manage labour through the mining cycles.
“The irony of it all is that the big losers are the workers, and as things turn around in the sector we are going to lose the skills we desperately need.”
His prediction would appear to be validated, with yet another miner sending Shift Miner an email about his experience this week.
Having spent years working casually as labour hire the miner has decided to leave the industry.
“For years I have been doing the exact same job as full-time employees who are earning 40% more,” he said.
“Then when we work hard and achieve or beat production targets, they pay full-time employees bonuses, and we get nothing.
“This can't be fair, and it seems they are counting on us to get fed up and leave so they can replace us with new labour hire to repeat the cycle all over again.
“If the government doesn't change the laws, what's to stop mining companies doing this forever?
“I’m leaving the industry soon, but I hope something changes for the future generations of young miners."
It’s an experience echoed by hundreds of other miners working in the sector.
Another miner told Shift Miner he didn’t think it was possible or sensible to legislate against labour hire because there will always be a need for casuals to feel short term vacancies.
However, in the last decade, he's witnessed first hand a huge change in the way casuals are being treated.
“The problem with casuals in mining is that they are being put into permanent roles,” he said.
“When I started working, people would start out as casuals on a probation period (usually three months) then they would become permanent, and along with that came all the added benefits like leave, loading and bonuses.
“Take shutdowns as an example, you might work for three months, but once the jobs done you could be on the bench for four weeks, and that was just part of the deal.
"But at least when I was working exclusively in shutdowns we would be classed as permanent after we worked so many hours in the week (38 if I remember correctly) and for that week, we would accrue sick leave, holiday leave, and we’d be paid any public holiday rates that might apply.
“I haven’t been to a shutdown in the last three years that does that now.
“In another example, I picked up a job with a company who secured a 2-year contract to maintain a wash plant and only the grey collar workers and higher were given “permanent” positions even though it was a 2-year contract.
“Try going to the bank to take out a loan for a car or house when you are casual, they don’t care that the company has a 2-year contract, all they see is casual mine employee.
“I suppose what I’m getting at is there is no doubt there is a need for casuals in mining, just as there is in any other industry, but like other industries, there needs to be some fairness involved."
So why don’t more casual miners leave?
According to the same miner, many in the industry don’t see too many other options.
“For me, it was a job. It was the best I could get,” he said.
“Every man and his dog wants a permanent job, but realistically they are unlikely to get one.
"So they sit there in a casual roll, and they take the abuse from the bosses and do the dodgy things they're asked because their casual spot at the trough is better than no spot at all.”
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