31/10/2006 - 21:00

Retail sector leads private employers

31/10/2006 - 21:00


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Big retailers, big miners and big contractors sit at the top of WA Business News' second annual survey to find the state's largest employers.

Retail sector leads private employers

Coles Myer has maintained its status as Western Australia’s largest private sector employer, despite the sale of its Myer department store chain and the expansion of its arch rival, Woolworths.


Coles has more than 17,000 employees in WA, twice the number of Woolworths, according to WA Business News’ second annual survey of WA’s Biggest Employers.


Giant mining company BHP Billiton is the state’s third biggest employer, with about 7,000 staff.


Diversified company Wesfarmers is another big WA employer with nearly 6,000 staff in industries as diverse as chemicals, coal mining, gas distribution and power generation.


By far the biggest contributor to Wesfarmers’ total employment is its hardware retailing arm, Bunnings, which increased its WA staffing by 5 per cent during the past year to 3,670 people.


The prominence of retailers such as Coles, Woolworths and Bunnings in the WA Business News survey corresponds with an Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force survey, which ranked the retail trade as WA’s biggest industry.


The ABS found that 147,000 Western Australians work in the retail trade, or about 14 per cent of the total labour force.


Woolworths increased its presence in WA last year by purchasing 16 Action supermarkets, as part of the break-up of Foodland Associated, but with 8,500 staff it remains much smaller than Coles, which owns supermarkets, discount stores, liquor stores and stationery outlets.


Other big contributors to employment in the retail trade include supermarket group Metcash (3,051 employees), which bought most of the Foodland business last year, and the Myer department stores (2,039 employees), which Coles sold to a private equity consortium earlier this year.


Collectively, the five biggest employers in the retail trade – Coles, Woolworths, Bunnings, Metcash and Myer – account for just less than one quarter of all jobs in the industry.


In other words, employment in the industry is fragmented, with the majority of workers being self-employed or working in smaller family businesses and franchises.


In contrast, employment in the mining industry is more concentrated.


The ABS found that the mining industry directly employs 53,500 people, or 5 per cent of total employment in WA.


The industry’s five biggest employers account for 40 per cent of the total.


BHP Billiton has 7,000 employees in WA, though the figure would rocket to 12,000 people if sub-contractors, in areas like mining, maintenance and the construction of new projects, were included.


BHP’s Pilbara iron ore business is the main contributor to the total, followed by its Nickel West business (formerly WMC Resources) and its Worsley Alumina business.


Rio Tinto is the state’s second biggest mining company, with 5,250 staff.


Like at BHP, most of Rio’s staff work in its extensive and rapidly expanding Pilbara iron ore operations.


Rio also has about 800 people employed by its Argyle Diamonds business.


Other big employers in the resource sector include alumina producer Alcoa (4,000 staff), Perth-based oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum (3,052) and gold producer Barrick (1,733).


While the mining industry is directly responsible for 5 per cent of jobs in WA, it makes a much bigger indirect contribution.


This is reflected in the rapid expansion achieved by engineering and construction companies.


Leighton has grown rapidly to become WA’s sixth biggest employer with nearly 4,600 staff.


Best known as a contractor on the controversial Mandurah rail project, Leighton has extensive business interests in WA spread across three subsidiaries – mining contractor Thiess, Leighton Contractors (which bought HWE Mining, formerly Henry Walker Eltin, early this year), and John Holland.


Other fast-growing companies in the engineering and construction sector include Perth engineering company Clough, contractors Monadelphous and Macmahon, Downer EDI (which owns big mining contractor Roche) and national engineering firm WorleyParsons.


Big employers with a strong exposure to the resources sector also include catering and cleaning contractor Compass Group (1,851 staff), which services many mining camps, and equipment distributor Westrac (1,400 staff).


Finance is another highly concentrated sector in WA.


The five big banking groups have nearly 8,600 staff, or about 35 per cent of total employment in the finance and insurance sectors.


The biggest player is HBOS subsidiary BankWest, which has increased WA staffing by 7 per cent over the past year to 3,200 people.


Notably, the big four national banks – Commonwealth, Westpac, National and ANZ – all have very similar staffing levels at about 1,350 people.


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