26/06/2017 - 15:02

Yagahong Alliance into positive territory

26/06/2017 - 15:02


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SPECIAL REPORT: A joint venture between a major contractor in the Mid West and a traditional owner group has been many years in the making.

Yagahong Alliance into positive territory
Yagahong workers with some of their equipment. Photo: GIna Jenkin

The Yagahong Alliance won its first contract in 2015, not long after Geraldton-based Central Earthmoving and the Yugunga-Nya people, the traditional owners of the area around Meekatharra, established the enterprise.

That first deal was with Sandfire Resources at the DeGrussa mine, and the alliance has backed this up by winning an $8.5 million contract at Sandfire’s nearby Monty project.

Central Earthmoving managing director Craig Patterson said the initial contract had given the joint venture an opportunity to prove its credentials.

“We’ve been there two years and had no lost-time injuries or recordable injuries, so the safety performance has been outstanding,” he said.

The alliance has 18 workers on site at DeGrussa and expects a peak workforce of 48 under the new contract.

Mr Patterson said its progress was evidenced by the increasing indigenous participation.

The alliance started with 25 per cent Aboriginal participation.

Aboriginals now comprise 60 per cent of the workforce, and that is due to reach 70 per cent by the end of the month after new trainees begin work.

Mr Patterson said the alliance had also delivered commercial results.

“We wanted to ensure we built a reputation for doing the work safely and with quality outcomes,” he said.

“It was about proving as an Aboriginal joint venture that you didn’t have to pay a premium as well.”

Mr Patterson’s commercial approach has been informed by personal experience.

“I grew up in a regional area and shared a house with an Aboriginal guy, and that opened my eyes to some of the intrinsic racism and challenges and barriers he faced,” Mr Patterson said.

“You really need to understand the barriers they’ve got and provide a holistic approach with mentors and support.”

Central Earthmoving applies this approach across its business.

It was a founding member and co-funder of the Bayalgu program at the Golden Grove mine in the Mid West.

More than 100 people have gone through that program and it has achieved 82 per cent workforce retention after two years.

“For us it’s not just training for training’s sake but ensuring there are real outcomes,” Mr Patterson said.

Central Earthmoving’s own workforce generally has about 18 per cent Aboriginal participation and the company has engaged many indigenous sub-contractors.

“For our company it’s been a long journey, we’ve been on this for 20 years,” Mr Patterson said.

The company’s success was recognised this year when it beat larger contractors Brierty and Georgiou to win the Civil Contractors Federation’s annual Aboriginal Engagement Award.

The lessons Mr Patterson has learned over the years have been applied to the Yagahong alliance.

“The principle it’s built on is that we come in with our capabilities, build the capabilities of the local traditional owners, and then transfer ownership to them,” he said.

The Yugunga-Nya people have a 30 per cent interest in the joint venture and can lift that to 60 per cent once they reach trigger points tied to equipment purchases, number of employees and developing management talent.

Mr Patterson said while the first trigger point had not been reached, he was encouraged by the growth in Aboriginal employment and the purchase of some expensive equipment.

“We really feel we’re starting to gain some good momentum,“ he said.

“But we’ve both got obligations. It’s about them accepting their responsibilities and us holding our line until they are ready.

“I’ll have an investment in this and I need to know they can manage it properly.”

When the alliance won its initial contract, there was hope other mining companies with land-use agreements in the region, such as Doray Minerals and Metals X, would follow suit.

Asked whether that had happened, Mr Patterson simply said: “We’ve had excellent support from Sandfire”.

He said government agencies were now using their purchasing to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people.

“Government agencies, federal and state, have said this is important,” Mr Patterson said.

“They see employment outcomes as critical; they will be specifying it in their contracts.

 “That is a real opportunity for regional contractors.

“We can really do this well.”

Mr Patterson said he hoped other regions started to match the Pilbara, where Aboriginal contractors achieved more success after the big iron ore miners mandated indigenous participation.

He believes mentoring and support will help many smaller Aboriginal operators expand.


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