Resource companies can't afford to become "job snobs" (19/06/2012)

10 January 2013

mining-jobs.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (21:49): Over the last decade we have heard the term 'job snobs' being applied as a pejorative to workers who are apparently able to take on a job but are unwilling to move to a region to take up that job or to take up an employment opportunity that may exist within the place where they live. It implies that somebody is unwilling to do a job that they are more than capable of doing. Today I rise to point to a significant risk for the mining sector: if mining companies are to escape the tag of being job snobs themselves then they must do everything within their power to ensure that Australians workers who are ready, who are willing, who are able to take up employment in the resources sector, in the booming mining developments in Western Australia and Queensland, are given first choice in taking up those jobs.

For the last four years the mining industry has well and truly dominated the political and economic landscape. It is the sector which is driving new investment, over $500 billion worth, in the development or expansion of mines. Employment in the sector is growing; while it still makes up only a relatively small proportion of the overall workforce, it is expanding rapidly. For example, in my own region, employment in the coalmining sector has increased at around 12.6 per cent over the same period when, I note, we were being told by the Leader of the Opposition that mines were all going to close down. Coal production has actually increased by 14 per cent in the last 12 months in my own region alone.

The debate over the return to taxpayers from the exploitation of those mineral resources has also gripped this place. I am very pleased to see that our proposal for the minerals resource rent tax has now passed into law and Australians will have the opportunity to ensure that for generations to come they will reap the benefits of the mining boom, long after the last bucket of dirt has been exported from our shores. The mining and resources boom is the single cause of our high Australian dollar, the force which has made our non-mine exports less competitive but, at the same time, our imports significantly cheaper. We are seeing a massive structural shift in our economy, in opportunities which exist in the north and the west, a long way away from where the population and the infrastructure exists, in the south and the east.

More recently, the mining industry has been in the foreground over the issue of the use of foreign employees to work in the massive mining developments that are occurring in Western Australia and Queensland. I have given qualified support to the notion of enterprise migration agreements, but this support, like the support of the Australian community for these agreements, could well founder on the willingness of the mining sector to do the right thing by Australia and the Australian people. The mining industry quite simply has an obligation to the Australian community to ensure that it is employing locals and, what is more, to ensure that it is training locals, whether they be locals that are employed or locals that may be able to be employed in those mining developments.

I am quite tired of being told on the one hand that there is work for anyone who is able, because I am sick of hearing people coming up to me in my electorate saying that this is simply not true because they have made numerous applications for jobs in the mining sector, only to have been either rejected or heard no response whatsoever. One of them is Antony Sprajk, a 21-year-old who has just completed a four-year apprenticeship at BlueScope and, because of the troubles in that business, is now looking for a job. He has made over 200 applications to mining companies. He is very well qualified, well thought of and has excellent referees, but he has either not heard back or, if he has heard back, has been looked over and told that he is not suitably qualified. A further example is John Wooley, a constituent of mine from Albion Park who has over 20 years experience in the building and construction industry at a supervisor level and a tradie levelhe is a carpenter by trade. He has lost count of the number of jobs he has applied for and the number of times that he has been looked over and told that he is not suitable for the jobs that are on offer. Time after time we are meeting constituents in our electorates who have said that they have applied and that they are ready, willing and able to make the personal sacrifice and the great journey to either transfer to the west or the north or to engage in fly-in fly-out workat a great cost to them and their families, quite oftenbut they are not being picked up by the mining companies. In response to that, I have written to the head of the Roy Hill company, to BHP, to Rio Tinto, to Fortescue, to Thiess and to all the other major mining companies and said: 'Before you come to government and ask for our agreement to another enterprise migration agreement, I suggest you come to my electorate in the Illawarra and I will help you set up and hire a hall. We can tour the supermarkets in the suburbs of my electorate because I know that there will be literally hundreds of men and women who have the skills, the willingness and the ability to take up jobs in these far-flung places.'

It is not that I want to see these people leave the electorate. That is far from the case. I would rather they stayed and made their livelihoods and their lives in my electorate. But what I do say is this: if I have people who are out of work or who are looking for work in my electorate and they are keen to have a go, to try their luck in one of these far-flung places and to do the work that is necessary, and if they have the skillsthat is, they are ready, willing and ablethen I should be doing everything in my power to give these people a go, and the mining companies, the proponents of these enormous developments, should also be giving them a go. If the only thing standing between these workers and a job on these sites is a site-specific licence or ticket, then the mining companies themselves should be assisting the workers to obtain that training and licence so they can take up that employment. A couple of thousand dollars is a small cost to a mining company, but it can make the world of difference to people who are currently out of work and looking for work.

There are things that the government is doing, and I congratulate the efforts of the minister and the Prime Minister, who have been responsible for setting up Job Board Australia. It has been in place for only 14 days, but well in excess of 60,000 people have visited the site and over 2,000 people have registered with the site, seeking employment. At the moment only 250 jobs are directly registered with the Job Board, and another 1,700 are available by indirect links. But it is a good start; it is a good sign. It is a little bit unfortunate. If we had been facing this situation a decade ago it would not have been an online site that people would be going to. It would have been something called the Commonwealth Employment Service, a body that once had both the expertise and the reach and capacity to deal with exactly this sort of situationhow you connect people who are out of work in one part of the country with job opportunities that exist in another. In the face of a commitment not to do so, the Howard government closed down the Commonwealth Employment Serviceto its shame and to the great detriment of the many thousands of Australian employers and employees who rely on these sorts of services either to get jobs or to fill vacancies. In view of that, the Job Board is filling a gap, and I encourage Australians, including people in my electorate, who are after a job in the mining sector to apply.

There are things that we can be doing in our local electorates for fly-in fly-out workers. I am encouraging the local council, which owns a regional airport in my electorate, to do everything within its power to ensure that the airport and its infrastructure are available so that we can attract airlines to ferry workers to Queensland and Western Australia, making available those job opportunities. The key point here is this: we have workers who are ready, willing and able and a government that is willing to facilitate. It is incumbent upon the companies themselves not to be job snobs and to provide opportunities for employment for Australians. There are great opportunities available.