Contractors push in the Pilbara

As the resources industry sees a resurgence, the Pilbara mining region is again beginning to boom.

However, while contract mining and services companies typically flourish in these economic upswings, groups have claimed that there exists a discrimination that means Indigenous run businesses in the region are not offered the same opportunities to tender for contracting work.

The Pilbara Aboriginal Contractors Association (PACA) believes that there is a distinct lack of opportunities for Aboriginal contractors in the region. Australian Mining spoke to PACA general manager Tony Wiltshire who said it is carrying out a number of measures to address this imbalance as well as seeking to introduce new affirmative action legislation.

The group is seeking to become the contact point for resource companies looking to engage with Aboriginal contract mining and services companies in the Pilbara.

Added to this, PACA is aiming to be the distribution point for resources and information from miners to assist Indigenous contractors in meeting tender and contract requirements.

Wiltshire explained that while miners in the Pilbara such as BHP and Rio Tinto work closely with indigenous contract mining and services businesses in other countries such as South Africa and Canada, it is not acting similarly in Australia.

However, these companies are doing more than most, Wiltshire said.

This lack of working with local and Indigenous businesses not only negatively affects the Pilbara community; it also costs mining companies more.

In a 2009, the Federal Government released a report called "Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage; the Challenge for Australia," which noted that the high costs associated with the current fly in fly out services schemes could be lessened by engaging with Aboriginal contract services which are located near the sites.

PACA is currently focused on the development of workshops to train Indigenous contract mining and services companies to more effectively tender for available contract work.

Wiltshire said there remains a disconnect between the contract mining and services company and their ability to tender effectively for work on sites.

The association is also reviewing legislation, which could include changes to affirmative action laws, amendments to State agreements, or amendments to the Mining Act.

"We are lobbying for it, and are targeting the Pilbara and Western Australian mining sectors, and hope people see the legitimacy of any changes," Wiltshire told Australian Mining.

Any proposed affirmative action legislation regarding the use of ‘forced engagement’ with local and in particular Indigenous contract mining and services companies would act as a test for the state of Western Australia and eventually the nation.

"These outcomes will be a real test, and we can expect that it will put pressure on the resources industry to engage with the local and Indigenous businesses," Wiltshire said.

However, while it is focused on the resource industry having a greater engagement with indigenous contract mining and services companies, it is not looking to emulate the system currently in place in South Africa – the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

This system was put in place to redress apartheid and required businesses to create equality in the workforce.

However, Wiltshire believed that the system unlikely to work politically or socially.

In considering changes to the Mining Act, PACA would look at getting conditions inserted for the granting of mining tenements, which would require the holder to meet minimum Aboriginal contract provisions.

The aim would be to have a system in place similar to that in Canada, which uses Socio-Economic Agreements (SEA).

The SEA system outlines that mining companies have an obligation to implement with local contract mining and services businesses.

In the development of these options for Aboriginal contract mining and services companies to create greater opportunities within the Pilbara, the potential to have far reaching consequences for not only the Pilbara, but the mining and resources industry is evident.

The key element is that "Aboriginal people and companies have a direct dealing in their future and in the region," Wiltshire said.

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