Mining companies can afford to pay higher wages: CFMEU

The CFMEU say there is scope to increase wages in the coal sector, despite companies stating they cannot afford to.

Last month, the Queensland Resources Council announced the mining sector’s high wages are unsustainable.

"I know we're all enjoying them at the moment but they are not sustainable," QRC director of economics and infrastructure David Rynne said.

However, CFMEU spokesman Steve Pierce said workers helped generate large profits and deserved wage increases, The ABC reported.

"It's not harder for companies to make a profit, it's harder for companies to make the mega profits they've made over the last two or three years and they've become addicted to these massive profits," he said.

"There is still significant profits to be made in the coal industry with competent and intelligent management, some of that which is not displayed in Queensland."

Pierce says union members have reasonable expectations.

"These people are taxpayers, they've got children, they've got families to support – they are hit with the higher cost of living, living in the mining community," he said.

"It would be ludicrous to say that they should have a wage freeze when all of the products and services they are purchasing and have to pay for are continually going up."

The mining sector’s high wages have been a hot topic of late, with many claiming they are making the industry less competitive as companies also tackle a stubbornly high Australian dollar and increases in production costs.

Earlier this year, Australian Mining reported that the mining industry continues to pay the highest level of remuneration to Australian workers, with average take home earnings sitting at $2,388.20 as of May 2012.

Perhaps the most controversial person to talk about the issue, mining magnate Gina Rinehart has flagged cheap foreign labour as a threat to Australian jobs in the mining industry.

Citing high labour costs, Rinehart has stated Australia needed to use "every advantage" to remain internationally competitive as resource wealthy countries continue to expand their undertakings."

Rinehart admitted advocating reduced wages had not helped her in the popularity stakes, especially as she is currently listed as Australia’s wealthiest person, but she explained it is important for the country's mining future.

"I know people hate me saying (it), but their wage rates are so much lower over there and they're lower in lots of countries, like Indonesia, for instance, which is a coalmining country we're competing with," Rinehart said.

"Once you see . . . very wealthy resources countries in Africa opening up, they're going to be horrific competition."

Speaking in Sydney earlier this year, she said governments should follow former Queensland premier and National Party member Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s vision who encouraged mining companies like Rio Tinto to build their headquarters in Australia.

"When you bring a head office into your state, it opens up a whole lot of things," she said.

"Employment's one and it also gets the staff more focused on that state and this country, and we need every little bit of help we can get in Australia because our costs are getting so far out to make us less competitive and we've really got to be sensible because there's other countries out there with our resources.

"So things like having Rio Tinto here as their headquarters when most of their money is earned in this country, in particular Western Australia, I think it'd be nice for them to come to our country as a headquarters and hopefully focus more on Australia rather than Africa."

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