A mine in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Picture: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg
A mine in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Picture: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

The $150k job no Aussies want

FIVE years after Australia celebrated its biggest mining boom in history, the limping industry is picking up again - but this time around it seems like Aussies aren't planning on picking up the slack or the giant pay checks.

From 2012 to 2016, the mining industry experienced a severe downturn, culling close to 60,000 jobs and making full-time work an almost impossible get.

But now, especially in Western Australia and Queensland, the mining industry is on the road to recovery - and companies are begging Aussies to come and work for them.

According to the latest data from SEEK, the mining, resource and energy sector has consistently recorded the largest growth in job ads for the past 11 months.

The sector is throwing out 32 per cent more job ads now than it was at the same time last year and is posting almost four times more job ads than Australia's average.

But just because mining companies are putting out thousands of ads and offering salaries paying well over $150,000 doesn't mean Aussies are picking them up.

Earlier this week, the CEO of WA's Chamber of Minerals and Energy backed a migration agreement that would hopefully combat a severe skills shortage in the mining region of the Goldfields.

If approved, the Designated Area Migration Agreement would allow overseas workers to be flown over to work in the mines and would make them exempt from the skilled migrants requirement.

Chief executive Paul Everingham told the ABC there were more than 1000 vacancies in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder mining sector and said the region was at crisis point.

"You can't sugar coat that - they're available now and they're not being filled, so however you can get them (workers)," Mr Everingham said.

"All Australian companies want to employ Australians first, but if there aren't enough Australians … we have got to remember there's an infrastructure boom going on in NSW.

"So if we have to set up special immigration or work zones, our members would definitely welcome the ability to get access to skilled workers immediately."

 

Mines near Kalgoorlie-Boulder are in dire need of FIFO workers. Picture: Gary Ramage
Mines near Kalgoorlie-Boulder are in dire need of FIFO workers. Picture: Gary Ramage

 

The WA mining industry is advertising for thousands of jobs ranging from cleaners to tradesmen to university-educated engineers.

But following Mr Everidge's comments, a number of people involved in the state's mining industry have said more needs to be done to make relocating an attractive proposition.

Despite the huge salaries fly-in fly-out workers earn, most complain of having no work-life balance.

FIFO workers typically have higher rates of suicide, struggle with depression due to long hours and loneliness and report higher rates of workplace bullying and alcoholism.

In 2015, the West Australian government conducted a 10-month investigation into the state's FIFO workforce.

Lifeline WA admitted in October last year it still had no idea exactly how many FIFO workers were affected by mental illness or how many had committed suicide while away from their families to work in the state's mines.

Even the report issued after the lengthy investigation admitted "the inquiry struck several problem areas in relation to statistics".

"Clear data was difficult to find in the areas of: a definitive total number of workers employed in the Western Australia resources industry on a FIFO basis (on either construction or production sites); suicide statistics for FIFO workers; and the prevalence rate of mental illness among FIFO workers," it read.

 

An open mine pit near Kalgoorlie. Picture: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg
An open mine pit near Kalgoorlie. Picture: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

 

Despite the parliamentary inquiry, the state's FIFO community claimed in March that conditions have actually worsened for the state's workers.

Peter Miller, the father of a FIFO worker who took his own life five years ago, told PerthNow "hardly anything has changed".

If anything, it's worse," he said.

"Companies talk about 'zero harm' on their sites, yet we have FIFO workers dying. Every couple of weeks you hear of a different death, it's continuing."

Following the rise of suicide rates in the mining industry, the University of Western Australia was given $500,000 by the State Government to study the mental health of FIFO workers.

Funded by the Mental Health Commission, it is one of the nation's biggest studies into mental health.

Another study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, anonymously surveyed 1100 FIFO workers at 10 remote mining and construction and found more than a quarter suffered from psychological distress.

It also found many miners didn't come forward because of the stigma around mental health and only 11 per cent of men between 18 and 29 who had mental health issues accessed professional help.

NEW MINES ARE ALREADY BEING BUILT

Even as the industry reels from its very public dark side, some of the world's biggest mining companies continue to invest and grow their business.

Earlier this month Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue all started building new mines in Western Australia, a move that is expected to create more than 5000 jobs for mining hopefuls.

And whether or not the workers come from Australia, the mining industry continues to show no signs of slowing down.

The sector is the third largest contributor to the Australian economy and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the mining industry accounts for 1.9 per cent of the nation's workforce, employing 226,000 people in either full or part-time work.

The recovering industry has also had a huge impact on the economy of Western Australia.

Earlier this week, one of the nation's most respected forecasters declared the state's economy was finally "out of the woods".

Deloitte Access director Chris Richardson declared WA was finally recovering from the mining downturn which saw the state endure its worst year on record through 2016-17.

"WA's economy is out of the woods, but it isn't quite yet out of the doldrums," Mr Richardson told PerthNow.

"The good news is that WA's economy is gradually making its way on to a more settled and sustainable path. The State is restructuring and rebalancing and looking for non-mining related sources of growth."

If you or anyone you know are experiencing mental health issues or need help, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For help with depression, please see Beyond Blue for a list of organisations that can help.

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