Miner ditches FIFO in favour of hiring Indigenous workers

Owner of the Great Australian Mine on the outskirts of Cloncurry have switched from a FIFO workforce of 80 per cent to just 20 per cent by deciding to hire locally.

CopperChem made the decision back in February and Indigenous Liaison Officer at the mine, Leon Gertz, said the move was made to attract more Aboriginal recruits to the project.

Gertz says the locals are "more sustainable employees", ABC reported.

"They have a connection here. They're probably already established in terms of housing, understanding the area, less liable to move on over a period of time, so we think there's more stability."

Many of the recruits have come through the Dugalunji Training Camp, near Camooweal, which has been able to set up a 10-week "ready-for-work" training course.

With the help of local businesses, including the mine, the training course means most of the trainees have guaranteed employment if they graduate.

Aboriginal-owned corporation Myuma was able to set up the deal and general manager Colin Saltmere said it highlighted the importance of investing in young locals.

"We've been able to negotiate a contractual agreement where they invest in those trainees and the investment is paying for part of the program and then employing them at the end of it," he said.

On a recent tour of the training facility, Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, said the centre was "nothing short of exceptional".

"We saw that people were not only getting trained but they knew where they were going to work," he said.

"[I'm] very, very impressed and these are the sort of programs we should replicate."

Scott Seymour is one of around 30 Indigenous workers at the mine and said the opportunity had made a huge impact.

"It's changed my life, you know, in a big way because I never thought I wanted to work in the mines," Seymour said.

"This is probably the first time I've seen a lot of local Aboriginals being employed by any mines in Cloncurry with what we have. It's good and they're giving everyone a go – doesn't matter what colour you are, everybody's treated equal."

With Indigenous workers in the mining industry under represented, more companies are getting on board to provide the necessary skills and training needed for people to secure work.

Last year Rio employed 1,100 Aboriginal people, representing around 11 per cent of its total WA workforce, and the company is hoping to move to 20 per cent by 2015.

In the Pilbara BHP Billiton employs 10,000 people, with just under 1,000 of those being Aboriginal.

Fortescue Metals Group, the region’s other big employer, has also brought its indigenous workforce up to around 10 per cent in WA.

However experts say more needs to be done, with Professor Jon Altman from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Research at Australian National University stating that the example in Cloncurry was a great one for others to implement.

But Altman warned the targets set by Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) to halve the gap on Indigenous employment by 2018 will be hard to achieve.

"The challenges are extraordinary. The 2006-11 changes according to the census have seen a widening of the gap in employment, not a narrowing," he said. 

"I think that the target – and we've got to remember this target's only to half close the gap, even though the terminology's close the gap – is far too ambitious.

"I don't think 75,000 new jobs will be created in the next five years."

Scullion said he was confident the government can achieve the COAG target.

"I don't think there's anywhere that doesn't have opportunities; there are some challenges with mobility, there's no doubt about that,” he said.

"I do think it's achievable, certainly if corporate Australia behave in the same way that individuals and some organisations in the sector of corporate Australia have, we'll be well on the way."

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