Mining contractors need to manage fluctuating work volumes.

Major shifts at top of biggest employers list

ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: The annual Business News Biggest Employers survey has tracked changing employment patterns in WA over 13 years. This article is part of a special series to mark Business News' 25-year anniversary.

In 2005, Coles Myer was the largest private sector employer in Western Australia with 17,790 staff across its supermarkets and department stores.

That put it well ahead of retail rival Woolworths, which had 8,000 staff, mining giant BHP Billiton (8,000), conglomerate Wesfarmers (6,800) and Rio Tinto (6,225).

Thirteen years on, the picture has changed immensely.

Wesfarmers is the state’s largest private sector employer with 25,962 people (see list below).

Coles Group, which is on the brink of becoming an independent company again, once Wesfarmers completes its planned demerger, contributes just more than half that total with 13,000.

Over the same period, Woolworths has grown to have 17,230 people in WA, reflecting the outperformance of its supermarket chain over this period.

Rio Tinto (13,000 people) and BHP (10,000) have also grown, driven by the expansion of their Pilbara iron ore operations.

Other companies near the top of the list are fast food giant McDonald’s Australia (8,405) and gaming and hospitality operator Crown Perth (5,600).

The state’s largest employers include several not for profits including St John of God Health Care (7,307), Silver Chain (4,371) and Aegis Aged Care Group (3,425).

The state’s two largest universities also feature near the top of the list; Curtin University has 3,766 people and University of Western Australia 3,264.

The Business News Biggest Employers survey highlights some of the shrinking businesses across the state.

Telstra’s staff numbers have halved, from 3,517 in 2005 to 1,700 currently.

In just the past year, Seven West Media’s staff numbers have fallen from 1,492 to 909.

Conversely, several big mining groups that didn’t rate a mention when the survey started have emerged during the past 13 years.

Fortescue Metals Group (4,289), CITIC Pacific Mining (3,000) and Roy Hill Holdings (2,107) all rank among the state’s largest employers.

The construction and civil engineering contractors that have built the new mines have needed to cope with large fluctuations in their work volumes, and staff numbers.

A prime example is Monadelphous, which had 1,642 staff when the first survey was completed in 2005.

Its national headcount grew nearly every year to a peak of 7,418 in 2013 before falling dramatically to just 4,438 in 2016 (see graph).

NRW Holdings has experienced even more dramatic changes, with its national headcount jumping from 661 in 2007 (the year it listed on the ASX) to a peak of 4,592 in 2012 before tumbling to just 832 two years ago.

Monadelphous and NRW have both achieved an uptick in staff numbers over the past two years, helped by their east coast expansions and diversification into new sectors.

They have also won new contracts in the WA mining sector, at a time when there is growing concern about skilled labour shortages as a flurry of iron ore, lithium and gas projects in WA coincide with an infrastructure boom on the east coast.

Mineral Resources managing director Chris Ellison is among those who share these concerns.

His company, which combines both mining and contracting operations, has recruited 830 people over the past year, taking its headcount to 2,212.

“We’ve had no issues getting them but it’s coming,” Mr Ellison said last month on a tour of the company’s Wodgina lithium project.

“We’re in for some headwinds on the labour front but it’s about a year down the track.

“It will be like days of old.”

He said Mineral Resources has been investing in its company culture, reviewing pay grades and focusing on staff retention to address the looming issue.

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Monadelphous (MND)

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BN30 Index

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Total Shareholder Return as at 31/12/19

1 year TSR5 year TSR
77thNRW Holdings103%56%
179thPerenti Global41%36%
197thMacmahon Holdings36%32%
649thSeven West Media-40%-20%
668 WA (and selected non WA) listed companies ranked by 1 year TSR relative to other companies with similar revenue
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4th↑Perenti Global$1,846.5m
5th↓Seven West Media$1,556.4m
7th↑Macmahon Holdings$1,114.8m
8th↑NRW Holdings$1,083.2m
199 listed industrial companies ranked by revenue.
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