“Pit-stop” crews of temporary overseas workers could be the next cost-saving option for mining companies as they look to cut labour expenses.
Mining services group Logicamms said that while overseas workers were already used to service offshore oil and gas facilities, the use of temporary crews instead of permanent ones for onshore projects would start to become more mainstream as companies looked to cut costs, The West Australian reported.
"I think in a couple of years time, probably on a five-year horizon, we're probably going to see pit-stop maintenance crews coming from overseas to maintain these mine facilities because it's going to be too expensive to get Australian labour," Logicamms strategy director, Karsten Gustera said.
Gustera said that some companies were already discussing the use of pit-stop crews of foreign workers and that big mining projects were already using the workforce.
"They're disguised as specialists but in reality they're basically doing the maintenance activities," he said.
The use of foreign labour on mine sites has been a contentious issue since billionaire Gina Rinehart was granted approval to bring 1,700 foreign workers to the Roy Hill project in the Pilbara.
Roy Hill chief executive Barry Fitzgerald defended the use of foreign saying the skills shortage facing the sector was a key liability and using foreign workers was a necessary "de-risking" strategy.
"On the evidence that we have from our members who are looking for work, that have skills, that are willing to move or willing to partake in fly-in, fly-put work, often they cannot even get an interview," he said.
"So there seems to be a disconnect with the claims made by the mining companies about skill shortages, and what unemployed members of ours and people in the community are telling us about trying to get job opportunities."
The union wants local workers to have first rights to local jobs over foreign workers and are calling for the issue to be legislated.