Fine Dining, Luxe Living Lure workers in the world’s most remote mines

(Bloomberg) – In the scorching mining sites of the Outback, the hours are long and the flies relentless. Today, in a bid to attract skilled workers and overcome a labor shortage, Australian iron ore companies are turning to Olympic-sized swimming pools, virtual golf halls and gourmet restaurants. .

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When production begins at the Ashburton iron ore center of Mineral Resources Ltd. By mid-2023, staff will be offered what they call resort-style accommodation twice the size of the industry average, including a queen-size bed, kitchen, and living room. And to overcome the constraints of working remotely, a full-time mental health consultant will be at your disposal.

“We want to know how to make sure we keep the people who work for us with us until they retire,” said company general manager Chris Ellison.

Meanwhile, the mining giants are also improving their game. The southern flank of the BHP Group, whose production began in June, includes a workers’ village with a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, an indoor golf course and a range of bars and restaurants.

And the Rio Tinto group is looking for workers for its $ 2.6 billion Gudai-Darri project, which is due to start early next year, promising them a comfortable life and high-speed connectivity at a site where workers ” will respect each other sincerely ”.

This is a far cry from the industry’s traditional image of so-called flying workers – arriving by plane to work in mines in the desert for weeks on end – being offered accommodation at testosterone-like sites, heavy loads – drinking boot camps and sleeping in tiny rooms called dongas after grueling 12 hour shifts.

The industry is also trying to clean up its sites after being attacked over allegations of sexual harassment made by women. BHP fired dozens of workers after verifying the allegations, including substantiated rape allegations. Rio has also responded with measures to improve worker safety at its mines, including a buddy system, increased supervision and training, shorter lists and a four-drink-a-day limit on alcohol consumption. BHP also has a four-consumption cut-off at its sites.

“We’re trying to make the sites more flexible to attract a more diverse workforce,” Ellison said.

Read: Mining giants face sexual harassment as BHP shoots 48

Mining companies know that the ability to attract workers to their sites and then keep them is critical. Despite a historic plunge in iron ore prices this week to a 16-month low of $ 90, major miners like BHP and Rio continue to profit as their cost of production can be less than $ 20 a tonne.

They are also used to volatile price swings, so their search for talent is unlikely to change at this time. Iron ore is responsible for about a third of Australia’s export earnings, a record A $ 152 billion ($ 110 billion) in the year through June 30, while the industry employs around 280,000 people.

A recent report showed that Western Australia’s resource industry must attract up to 40,000 additional workers over the next two years, or face delays and potential postponement of some A $ 140 billion in projects. . This challenge has been further compounded by state border closures to prevent Covid-19, while workers are also often sought after to work in highly skilled industries such as technology and finance, despite the fact that one offers them wages about double the national average in mining.

For Mineral Resources, it’s not just about attracting and keeping the best workers: Ellison says it’s just as important to provide a safe and comfortable environment that promotes the mental well-being of employees. The company breaks the mold by planning to build suitable housing for couples and families, seeking to get them to reside permanently and play an active role in the local community.

Yet the bulk of the Western Australian mine site workforce is destined to remain tied to their homes and families based hundreds of miles away, and from whom they must remain physically away for sometimes. weeks at a time. Mineral Resources mental health chief Chris Harris said airline workers suffered twice as much psychological distress as other Australian workers.

“Some of these challenges are just the nature of the industry,” Harris said. “The question is, how do we help people overcome these challenges? “

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