Are Aussies unwilling to move west for jobs?

by Stephanie Zillman31 May 2012

Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding currently plaguing the skills shortage and mining jobs controversy. The very nature of the term implies just that – a skills shortage. Yet day after day, pollies and unions alike say the mining companies snub Aussie workers. What’s really going on?

The mining companies

According to one peak mining body, finding mining sector workers is no easy task, and the unions have glazed over the fact that Australia simply does not have enough workers skilled in the right trades for mining. The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief Simon Bennison said Australians may be putting their hands up for jobs, but many are unwilling to relocate or work fly in fly out, cannot start straight away, and critically, do not have the right skills and experience to work in the field.

The federal MP

Independent Federal MP Rob Oakeshott yesterday threw down a challenge to Western Australian mining magnates to send a plane to his electorate and he’ll fill it with workers. “I’d have 100-150 people ready to get on straight away,” he told media in Canberra yesterday. According to Oakeshott and fellow independent Tony Windsor, the mining industry has not done enough to actively recruit workers on the east coast, especially from regional areas with high unemployment.

“It annoys me that it has somehow entered mythology that the east won't go over to the west to work,” Oakeshott said. The MP also commented that his local community had run four jobs expos in recent years, and that major mining and resources companies had not had a presence at any of them. Windsor added that even with skills and qualifications, feedback suggested it was tough to get a foot in the door.

The independent contractor

Logistics giant Linfox has said their business interests in WA are growing at 50% a year, but they have ongoing difficulty getting workers to relocate to fill driving jobs paying up to $200,000 a year.

The Melbourne based company recently issued a memo to 4,000 workers in Victoria and NSW offering the opportunity to almost double their salaryand receive a $6,000 cash bonus to relocate. But the company was forced to boost it to $10,000 after just 16 workers responded to the offer. “We're desperately short of people again, as we have been for three years,” CEO Michael Byrne said. “I'll take any number. If there were 100 I'll take them,” he added. Byrne said Australia does not have a culture where people were prepared to move anywhere to take up a job.

The government

Earlier this week the Prime Minister Julia Gillard said no Australian worker would miss out on a job as a result of the government’s decision to allow the first ever Enterprise Migration Agreement. The agreement will see more than 1,715 foreign workers enter the country on 457 visas to fill jobs on an iron-ore project in Western Australia.

Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen defended the approval of the historic agreement: “There is a need for temporary workers to help keep our economy strong. With more than 8,000 workers required during the construction phase of the Roy Hill project, there simply aren't enough people in the local workforce to get the job done,” Bowen said.

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