QLD mining ghost towns predicted as workers on the move

A mining communities advocate has lashed out at the Queensland government, claiming a lack of support will see regional mining centres turn into “ghost towns” as workers leave to secure FIFO jobs.

Former state politician and Central Queensland Coal Communities advocate Jim Pearce claims mine workers are leaving regional towns at an alarming rate so they can be considered for work at the 100 per cent FIFO workforce at BMA’s Caval Ridge mine, Daily Mercury reported.

Pearce said the state and federal governments should “hang their heads in shame” for allowing BMA to opt for a wholly FIFO workforce at the mine and says people are leaving their homes and moving to different postcodes in the hope of securing work.

“This is the history of the industry in reverse,” he said.

“People used to move from the coast to the coal towns to have a job and a nice home and a great town to live in and now those vibrant populations will become ghost towns. Who would want to live in a community where they have a high risk of not being able to retain a job just because of the policies of the industry?”

BHP’s decision to use a 100 per cent FIFO workforce instead of hiring from inside the local Central Queensland community, enraged locals, the unions as well as the wider mining community at large early last year.

It was hoped that BHP would source the 1000 employees needed for the project from the surrounding areas of Moranbah, Dysart, Mackay and Rockhampton but instead workers will be flown in from Brisbane and Cairns.

President of the Moranbah Traders Association, Peter Finlay, has previously said local residents should have the opportunity to apply for jobs in their own community.

“It’s seven kilometres from the post office and if you want to work there you can’t have an address in Moranbah – how stupid is that?” he said.

Pearce agrees, describing BMA’s decision as “bad policy”.

“There’s a huge burden on infrastructure, roads and communities along the east coast and all this is adding to it,” he said.

“I think it’s about time the people of Queensland and people with some authority started to ask the questions why mining companies prefer to have FIFO ahead of a sustainable existing community. The reason is because they get tax concessions for constructing mining camps.”

Pearce called on the state and federal governments to take a serious look at the situation.

“Taxpayers, mining companies and the government have put a lot of money into building these mining communities; that’s why we need to use them.”

An enquiry into the effects of FIFO workforces on regional towns was released last year, making 21 recommendations including better resourcing communities under pressure from large FIFO workforces, removing tax benefits for companies using transient workforces, a study into the impact on communities and the development of a housing strategy.


Rental tenant complaints on the up as the mines go down

Reports have emerged mine contracting companies cut from Bowen Basin operations are leaving resource towns such as Moranbah and Dysart in droves, taking with them employees housed in rental properties.

THE global coal market downturn is believed to be contributing to an increase in the number of complaints lodged with the Rental Tenancy Authority.

Reports have emerged mine contracting companies cut from Bowen Basin operations are leaving resource towns such as Moranbah and Dysart in droves, taking with them employees housed in rental properties.

The RTA confirmed 50 disputes from the two mining towns were lodged with the government organisation in the past three months.

RTA chief executive Fergus Smith said the number of disputes was a “significant increase” on the same period last year.

“This largely involves mining accommodation,” Mr Smith said.

“The disputes are mostly about repairs and maintenance and bond disputes.”

There are more than 200 properties available for rent in Moranbah. A search of realestate.com.au found 217 properties available for rent, with prices steady at about $900 a week, a stark reduction from previous highs of about $3000 a week.

The RTA is a statutory authority that provides tenancy information, bond management, and investigation and education services. It also acts as an arbiter between landlords and tenants, and can provide dispute resolution between the parties.

The rental market squeeze is expected to ease further, following the State Government’s release of the second (and final) round of land-only lots at Moranbah.

The 29 land lots and 51 house and land packages were expected to further relieve pressure on the crippled property market.

Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney said the Bushlark Grove estate would put 151 new homes in town.

“Moranbah has been subjected to severely limited housing options and very high housing prices and the accelerated release at Bushlark Grove is alleviating housing stress in the community,” Mr Seeney said.

FIFO workers prevent oversupply in mining regions

Temporary fly-in fly-out workers are helping prevent unsustainable growth in mining communities, according to research by the Reserve Bank.

Property Observer reports the research paper focused on the Pilbara and Bowen Basin, and said because of the rise in FIFO work towns were unlikely to see an oversupply of housing and infrastructure once the mining boom finished.

“Once the mining investment phase comes to an end, the utilisation of FIFO labour is likely to fall as labour demand in these areas declines,” it said.

“To the extent that much of the extra demand for labour in remote locations is temporary, an advantage of FIFO arrangements is that they can help limit the extent of housing and infrastructure required to service the workforce, and therefore reduce the extent of unused capacity when the boom ultimately passes.”

FIFO work is currently the subject of a Federal Government inquiry, and mining companies have drawn criticism from community members for their focus on temporary workers.

Earlier this month the Australian Medical Association WA branch called on the Government to produce an interim report on the inquiry.

The AMA said the Government needed to release its findings quickly because communities were already struggling with FIFO and there was a risk the mining boom would be over before the report was published.

Union downplays mine lay-offs

By Jennifer Huxley

Updated April 30, 2012 10:50:54

The Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union (CFMEU) says the community should not panic about a company’s move to downsize its Bowen Basin workforce in central Queensland.

Twenty contracted workers at Anglo American Coal’s Foxleigh mine have been laid off and employees at the company’s Moranbah North site, south-west of Mackay, have had their hours reduced.

CFMEU spokesman Steve Smyth says it is a common practice at the end of the financial year.

“That’s one of the issues of having labour hire employees and those who are not engaged in fixed-term, full-time employment,” he said.

“Their jobs are like seasonal workers – they can have a job now and not tomorrow and that’s one of the issues that we face in the mining industry.

“It’s not good but it does happen as it gets towards the end of the financial year.

“It has been a practice in the past in other places.”


BHP Billiton miners stand ground with more strikes likely

A DISPUTE between BHP Billiton and workers at its Bowen Basin coal mines is likely to continue until the end of the month as unions plan further industrial action.

Talks over a new enterprise agreement have dragged on for more than 16 months between miners and the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), with ongoing strikes and rolling stoppages since February.

CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said there would be more strikes this week.

“From this Thursday night until Saturday’s day shift  it’s about 36 hours  there will be industrial action at all seven mines,” Mr Smyth said.

“That’ll be a direct strike, but there will be other rolling stoppages at other various times.”

Mr Smyth accused BMA of reneging on several terms of the new agreement.

A BHP spokesman said the company would be taking the proposed agreement to a vote, conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission. He said the company was hoping to have the vote  which would not involve the CFMEU  concluded before the end of April.
Striking workers yesterday implored the public not to see them as “greedy miners just going for more money”, but central Queenslanders who were protecting their future.

Dysart father-of-two Mitch Hughes, a second-generation miner, asked the public “not to judge a book by its cover” and to understand that the current fight was not about pay but conditions, such as workers’ power to veto unpopular rosters and the company’s obligation to help provide accommodation that is suitable for miners’ families in a region where private rents had soared to $1500 a week.

“They don’t know a lot of the ins and outs and they think we’re greedy miners just going for more money … but, for us at the moment, it’s still about conditions and getting things right,” Mr Hughes, 28, said.

BMA has copied Qantas’ efforts to bypass unions amid protracted negotiations by putting a workplace agreement to a direct employee vote.

But a current sticking point of the BMA offer  which prompted at least three more days of strikes from Thursday  is the removal of the need for workers to carry a vote approving new rosters.

Mr Hughes and another BMA worker  a Moranbah father-of-three who works at the company’s Goonyella Riverside mine  said that they suspected BMA would use this to bring in seven-day on/seven-day off rosters as a prelude to beefing up fly-in fly-out operations.

By Josh Robertson and Jason Tin