Govt backs controversial Fifo camp
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The state government has backed plans for a 700-bed workers camp at Karratha, despite opposition from the local community, after Woodside Petroleum launched a website that is meant to boost local employment.
Premier Mark McGowan flew to Karratha to announce the jobs portal, but the local reaction was focused on the $80 million fly-in, fly-out camp, which has been in the works since last August when Woodside selected a private consortium to build, own, and operate the facility.
City of Karratha mayor Peter Long welcomed today’s news on the jobs portal but indicated this commitment to local jobs seemed to be at odds with a new, very large camp for Fifo employees on the outskirts of the town.
“Housing workers in such a segregated manner is old school thinking and will result in poor outcomes for the community,” Mr Long said.
“Where Fifo is necessary, our desire is to integrate Fifo workers into the community with quality, permanent buildings near to town facilities; much like what has been achieved by Rio Tinto in Wickham.”
Mr McGowan said the signing of a lease for the Bay Village Fifo camp was subject to Woodside’s commitment to deliver on its local participation plan.
The centrepiece of this plan is a website where locals can register their skills and availability for jobs.
Woodside and its contractors will be required to use the online portal to find suitable workers from the Pilbara region before considering Fifo workers.
Mr McGowan claimed the Fifo camp was crucial to planned projects that will create thousands of jobs - these include Woodside’s plan to process gas from the Scarborough and Browse fields at the existing Pluto and Karratha LNG plants.
“It’s required to bring Browse and Scarborough gas onshore,” Mr McGowan told journalists.
“If we don’t do that, then the construction workforce won’t be able to operate here in Karratha.”
Speaking later on ABC radio, the premier suggested the gas companies could pursue other options to process the Scarborough and Browse gas.
“They can pipe it elsewhere, they can send it to Darwin, they can process it offshore, they can leave it where it is, but what I want to see is it come to Karratha,” Mr McGowan said.
This comment is at odds with Woodside's previously stated aim to process the gas at the two existing LNG plants it operates.
Woodside’s chief operations officer Meg O’Neill said today the jobs portal was about ensuring that Karratha benefited from the big opportunities Woodside’s next wave of projects offered.
“One of the challenges we’ve seen is that people just don’t have access to the information; they don’t necessarily know what jobs are available,” Ms O’Neill told journalists in Karratha.
“The jobs portal means information is readily available.”
In a statement, Ms O’Neill said Woodside was working closely with key contractors to maximise local job opportunities, including Monadelphous Group and the United Cape joint venture, which comprises Cimic Group subsidiary UGL and UK-based Cape plc.
Woodside’s statement made no reference to the Fifo camp, which will cost $400 million to build and operate over 15 years.
It will be delivered by a consortium including European infrastructure investor DIF, which will be the project investor and manager, global facilities management company Compass Group (which trades as ESS Support Services Worldwide), and two arms of giant Canadian group Brookfield - Multiplex and advisory firm Brookfield Financial.
In response to questions, Ms O’Neill praised the design of the camp.
“We’ve got a design that we think will allow our workers to be integrated members of the community,” she said.
The premier said a local content requirement of 85 per cent would be placed on Bay Village, which will create about 70 local jobs during construction and 30 ongoing operational jobs.
Multiplex has previously committed to that target.
The construction company’s WA regional managing director Chris Palandri said last August there would be a big focus on local procurement and jobs at the Fifo camp.
“We have achieved more than 85 per cent local Pilbara employment on the Karratha Health Campus project and expect to exceed that figure for the construction of Woodside’s facility,” he said.
Mr Long questioned the manner in which the state government linked Bay Village to the Browse and Scarborough gas projects.
“While the city is extremely keen to see Browse and Scarborough gas fields processed through the Burrup gas processing facilities, the application to the government for this proposal did not mention these projects and, to date, there has been no commitment from Woodside to progress with these initiatives,” he said.
“Approving the camp on this basis is putting the cart before the horse.”
Mr Long said Woodside had refused to issue a copy of the plans and drawings so that council could properly assess the proposal.
Research commissioned by the Karratha Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry indicated the camp would bring a net loss of 69 local jobs and take $4.8 million in local incomes and $6.6 million per year from the local economy.
In a survey conducted at the end of last year, 80 per cent of respondents said they preferred operational workers to be accommodated residentially in town-based dwellings
Woodside has previously said it had hundreds of workers living in Karratha and had been upgrading houses in the city, but needed upgraded accommodation for Fifo staff who filled specialist roles or had transient maintenance or construction jobs.
Nationals WA leader Mia Davies said the Premier had punched a significant hole in Karratha’s aspirations to be Western Australia’s first true city of the north.
“Rather than fill the hundreds of Karratha houses currently sitting empty – more than 100 of which are owned by Woodside – or utilise the thousands of beds in local hotels or established accommodation facilities, the government’s preference is to build a new camp," Ms Davies said.
“The unfortunate reality of Fifo camps is that workers rarely venture out from behind the boom gate once in place; they don’t buy or shop local and they disengage with clubs and other volunteer organisations.
“Not to mention all the associated mental health pitfalls and family breakdowns that are proven to go hand-in-hand with Fifo lifestyles.”
To view the portal, visit http://www.karrathalocaljobs.com.au