30/10/2007 - 22:00

Shortage hits home in state's north-west

30/10/2007 - 22:00

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The housing shortage in regional Western Australia has become a bigger issue than skill shortages for companies like BHP Billiton, according to one of the mining giant’s senior executives.

Shortage hits home in state's north-west

The housing shortage in regional Western Australia has become a bigger issue than skill shortages for companies like BHP Billiton, according to one of the mining giant’s senior executives.

Carl Binning, BHP Billiton Iron Ore vice-president of sustainability, told a recent Housing Industry Association function that housing shortages in the state’s north-west were presenting the miner with some major problems.

“Our ability to house employees is worse than our ability to find them,” Mr Binning said.

He said the pace of the current resources boom outstripped that of the 1960s, placing greater demands on infrastructure and people.

BHP Billiton Iron Ore is planning to triple its production to 300 million tonnes in the next 10 years.

“We have to do projects at a much greater sale than those done in the 1960s; this is a time of fantastic opportunity,” Mr Binning said.

But he added that: “it is hard to be visionary when you are trying to work out where to put the next 10 employees in Newman”.

Mr Binning is keen for BHP to develop relationships with builders in a bid to produce quality, affordable and innovative homes in its operational areas.

BHP has already committed $340 million toward building homes in Port Hedland and Newman.

There are no simple solutions to solving the north-west housing problem, however, with the HIA highlighting a number of obstacles for its members.

HIA executive director WA Sheryl Chaffer said builders weren’t keen to take on work in the state’s north-west because of strong demand in the metropolitan area, increased costs, and a reluctance to send staff with easily transferable skills to the mining sector.

Ms Chaffer added that the building industry wanted the mining companies to play a greater role in helping develop the necessary skill base for those involved in the building and construction sector.

She also urged greater  communication from the mining sector, which tended to place significant demands for housing shortly after pressing the button on mining developments.

WA’s second largest homebuilder, Dale Alcock, said losing workers to the mining sector was one of the reasons he was reluctant to enter the north-west building market.

He said finding housing to accommodate the builders or contractors was another problem, and that in a time where skills were in short supply it would be difficult to source the necessary tradespeople prepared to work in regional towns.

Mr Alcock also wants the mining sector to contribute to the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund .

“There is a common worker to both industries. It’s just not right if the mining companies do not pay the fund but they are the recipients of the workers,” he said.

The BCITF was established in 1990 to provide funding for training by levying all construction projects in WA. However, the mining industry is exempt from the levy.

Ms Chaffer also said the mining sector should financially contribute to training.

The BCITF levy is 0.2 per cent of total project value and applies to jobs worth more than $20, 000.
The funds revenue jumped to $23 million last financial year, up from about $10 million three years ago.

However, the number of apprentices it trains has gone up 255 per cent.

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