24/10/2006 - 22:00

Seeking a settled regional workforce

24/10/2006 - 22:00

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The shift away from a fly-in, fly-out work culture to a more stable residential workforce is forcing some mining companies, and the state government, to re-evaluate their commitment to infrastructure developments in the regional areas that play home to th

Seeking a settled regional workforce

The shift away from a fly-in, fly-out work culture to a more stable residential workforce is forcing some mining companies, and the state government, to re-evaluate their commitment to infrastructure developments in the regional areas that play home to their multi-billion dollar projects.

Southern region manager for the Goldfields-Esperance Development Commission, Bill Witham, who worked on BHP Billiton’s $945 million Ravensthorpe nickel mine project, said there were lessons to be learned by industry, local and state governments, from the Ravensthorpe project.

With the total infrastructure bill estimated at more than $55 million, including the construction of roads, housing, airport, a wastewater plant and educational facilities, the state government’s $24.1 million assistance package was conditional on BHP Billiton using a residential workforce for the mine.

“From a government point of view that’s because we wanted to strengthen the region and put in place sustainable communities,” Mr Witham told last week’s Infrastructure WA 2006 conference. “BHP wants that because they want a settled workforce that has a good lifestyle.”

BHP Billiton contributed $10 million for housing and infrastructure costs, and the federal government $10.6 million for community buildings.

There are currently 2,200 people working on the construction of the mine which, once operational, will employ 600 permanent workers.

It is estimated that the project will boost the population of Hopetoun, the biggest residential community in proximity to the mine, by almost 1,750 people by 2010, a five-fold increase on today’s population.

Mr Witham said planning the ‘soft’ infrastructure requirements – for example childcare, medical centres, recreational and entertainment facilities and extra police – was a challenge.

“People tended to say ‘we won’t have those problems’ and ‘we’ll face them as they arise’. What’s happened is that these problems have come and we are facing them today,” he told the conference.

One current issue was the lack of workforce accommodation, exacer-bated by the high cost of land and the strain on the power grid, which was slowing the release of land, Mr Witham said.

His recommendations for future projects include nominating a senior agency with authority to project manage and align all parties, pre-agree land developments, and addressing the delivery of non-physical infrastructure.

“It’s easy to design passing lanes, power lines and water pipes, but putting in childcare agencies, putting in police, put that in because it will happen, it will be there and it will be a problem,” Mr Witham said.

The Shire of Boddington is also undergoing significant development due to the Boddington Gold Mine (BGM) expansion, expected to be operational in late 2008.

The $2 billion expansion, a joint venture between majority owner Newmont and AngloGold Ashanti, is expected to double the population of the shire within three years.

The mine’s owners, together with the local and state governments, want to develop a residential workforce in the surrounding communities of Wandering, Dwellingup and Williams.

Following a visit by Resources Minister John Bowler earlier this month, the government allocated an extra $550,000 to the shire, saying that: “the existing services and facilities were inadequate to cope with the enormous increase in demand”.

Mr Bowler also assured the shire that, working for a roster system that was beneficial both the workers and the community was high on his agenda.

Since its inception in 1987, BGM has contributed about $24.8 million in community support and contracts to local businesses, plus $14.2 million toward local infrastructure.

Shire counsellor Greg Day said the community, by and large, was positive about the project, and was satisfied with the community consultation process.

“The community now, compared to back then [in 1987], is more prepared and more accepting of the town growing,” he said.

Current concerns, according to Mr Day, are the upgrade of the sewerage infill program, and the slow release of land for housing for mine and supporting services workers, with house prices in Boddington up 83 per cent over the past 12 months.

 “It’s easy to talk two years out from the program and say all the right things. What happens when they’re in full production is to be seen,” Mr Day said.

Alan Tranter, managing director of Creating Communities, said mining companies needed to find creative ways of enriching the regional communities in which they do business, by creating meaningful partnerships with local government and community groups.

“It’s not just about having an event…[companies] need to work with the community, rather than just doing things,” he said.

“People think they need to solve a problem; but the solution is based on a vision, and being intimately involved with the community.”

Mr Tranter said it was also the employees’ responsibility to engage with the community, and to contribute to the social fabric of the town.

 “It’s about forming partnerships, building skills and achieving outcomes together, and that employees see themselves as contributing to the life of the town,” he said.

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