With skilled workers hard to come by contract mining companies in remote locations are looking to increase the number of Indigenous employees in their workforce.
Not only is this approach proving to make good business sense, it is also proving to assist traditional land owners with crippling unemployment levels in their communities.
“Twenty years ago Indigenous programs would have been conducted by the mine owners not contract miners,” Downer EDI Mining’s group remuneration and benefits manager Hilton Hurst told Australian Mining.
“Contract miners became more conscious that they were doing a lot of local recruitment as mine owners decreased their direct operational involvement,” he said.
Downer EDI Mining has developed a culture that aims to help regional and remote communities achieve economic sustainability.
In 2004 the company developed an Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Policy providing a formal overview of the company’s commitment to Indigenous activities.
“With the increased media exposure of land rights ten years ago contracting companies realised the need to connect with the various communities occupying the land being mined,” Hurst said.
In 2005 Downer EDI Mining was one of only four companies to fund and sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Commonwealth Government, Minerals Council of Australia and the resource industry.
The MOU was developed to support Indigenous employment strategies through the Regional Partnerships Agreement Process.
“It is good business, but at the same time we are among Indigenous communities and we need to respect that.
“The best way of demonstrating that respect is by helping communities and individuals within those communities,” Hurst said.
The company’s recruitment process at the Cracow gold project in Central Queensland began with a consultative workshop with regional elders.
“In the first instance companies need to meet with the elders of the communities to see if there are any cultural problems with allowing their people into the mines,” Hurst said.
“A community may have initial fears of employment programs so contractors need to do initial research through the right channels.”
Primary contact with elders is an important stepping stone to get the support of the community, according to Hurst.
“Mining companies need to make it clear what they are doing, and that theywant to help the community,” he said.
“With the backing of the elders in the communities it makes the job so much easier.”
“Communities need reassurance from other leaders on any proposal or program we intend to implement.
“Both parties have to be aware of the cultural differences and we spend a lot of time in getting this right to give both parties the best outcome.”
While contract mining companies are not specifically geared to develop local communities, Downer EDI Mining’s Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander policy attempts to support the whole community and not just the individual worker.
“You can only help people so much but you’ve got to go over a lot of cultural things with the community to give them the best chance,” Hurst said.
Downer EDI Mining’s approach has seen Indigenous employment levels reach 25% at some remote mine sites.
“We have about 155 Indigenous employees in various roles across our mine sites from truck drivers, site clerks, foremen and gardeners to dozer operators,” Hurst said.
As testimony to the success of the specialised recruitment process an administration trainee achieved a Certificate Three in Business within 18 months and was promptly promoted to site clerk.
Downer EDI Mining recognises that traditional human resource methods do not always provide a level playing field when it comes to Indigenous employment in regional and remote areas.
The company’s recruitment strategy attempts to foster long-term relationships with employees through a culturally sensitive recruitment process.
“The interview techniques that we would normally employ for non-Indigenous workers are sometimes not appropriate for Indigenous workers,” Hurst said.
“We aim to provide an informal and relaxed environment for prospective Indigenous employees, which involves group interviews rather than one-on-one,” he added.
“We also try to find out what Indigenous wokers want to do, what they like and whether they have any mining or general employment experience.”
Hurst is at pains to point out that Indigenous employees must not be treated differently to non-Indigenous members of the workforce.
“At Copabella one of the elders that we consulted said to me, “I don’t want our workers to be treated any different to any other person’, and that is the way we operate,” Hurst said.
Training and development
Downer EDI Mining’s Indigenous workforce comprises individuals who have joined the company via local recruitment initiatives across Australia.
“It made sense because most of our mine sites are in remote locations where Indigenous communities are,” Hurst said.
A culture of support for Indigenous worker starts from the top, according to Hurst.
“You have to have support from the top of your business because change has to come from the top,” Hurst said.
Downer EDI Mining
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