BHP drives the next tectonic shift in Australian coal – by Matthew Stevens(Australian Financial Review – February 6, 2017)

Two weeks ago BHP Billiton rolled a dump truck driving simulator into a recruitment office in Townsville. While this is but a modest technical achievement, the training facility represents another important milestone in the changing the demographics of the Australian coal industry.

BHP operates two mining joint ventures in Queensland and it is the bigger of them – the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance – that irritated the coal unions by turning on this new training kit.

The bone of contention here is that BMA has identified Townsville as a new source of workers ostensibly, but not exclusively, for its Saraji mine. The plan is to employ upwards of 100 new fly-in, fly out workers through labour hire firms. They will, initially at least, drive the trucks and shovels that move the overburden at Saraji. They might eventually become a sort of truck and shovel driving flying squad who can be deployed anywhere around the BMA fleet.

Traditionally these Saraji jobs would have been filled by miners living in the BMA feeder town of Moranbah or from the nearest big coastal centre, Mackay.

BMA management insists that the world’s biggest coking coal miner has “persistently” run with a backlog of vacancies and that it has been unable to fill those positions from the more usual labour pools. So it has encouraged some of the nine labour hire firms that service BMA’s needs to raise a new mining population from Townsville, where unemployment is high.

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