There’s no question that coal was at the centre of May’s federal election. Green activists and the ‘stop Adani’ campaign made sure of that, with their convoy into Queensland backfiring when it turned out that people in coal regions support our second largest export industry and the jobs it provides.
What would a labour hire boss say if a casual mineworker asked for a permanent job? A) No B) Don’t come back tomorrow C) Nothing, too busy laughing.
Yet the ‘right to request’ permanent work is what the Coalition is proposing as a solution to the casualisation crisis in our industries.
Australia’s top three coal producers, Glencore, BHP and Yancoal, recorded hefty profits last year from coking and thermal coal. These three companies control well over half of Australian black coal production and all have said they are enjoying great cash margins (reflecting profit after operating costs) of about 45%.
The exit of Rio Tinto from the global coal industry has seen it replaced in Australia by Yancoal and an even-bigger Glencore. Rio clearly thinks the long term prospects for coal are poor, but right now it has said good bye to the healthy profits that the coal majors are making.
Last week, global mining giant Rio Tinto announced the development of a new $3.5 billion, 43 million tonnes per annum Koodaideri iron ore mine in the Pilbara – to replace production from depleting mines nearby and position the company for further growth. But the company’s job forecasts for the new mine show it will deliver far fewer jobs than current operations.
Australia’s coal-ﬁred power stations will all close in the next two or three decades. We know this because the companies that operate the 23 power stations currently operating nation-wide have told us so.
Despite the empty rhetoric of some, it is unlikely that the economic case for investing in new coal-ﬁred power stations in Australia will stack up. Those who currently own and operate coal power stations have no plans to build new ones.
The employer community is putting on quite a show about a recent Federal Court decision that a casual labour hire coal miner employed full-time for years was not really a casual under the law and was therefore owed some paid leave.
They claim the WorkPac v Skene decision is a disaster due to the vast extent to which Australian businesses use casuals in regular, on-going work, that will lead to a multi-billion dollar outbreak of worker ‘double-dipping’ on casual loadings and paid leave.
Now it has emerged that WorkPac, the labour hire company at the heart of this case, is lobbying politicians to support legislative change negating the decision because it would be unfair on small to medium businesses.
Recent research found that just 5 out of 59 major solar, bioenergy and geothermal companies meet four basic criteria to protect communities and workers in their projects. Almost half appear to have no basic protections in place. Their record on respect for union rights – on freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively – was especially weak.
Further, some of the companies that did have detailed human rights policies also had a track record of more allegations of human rights abuses – showing a disconnect between policy and practice.
By Peter Colley, National Research Director
One of my sayings about my own profession is that most economists are wrong most of the time. And especially with forecasts. So it was with a forecast of mine back in 2000 that the truck fleets of open cut mines would be mostly automated by 2010.
That forecast was way off, but driverless truck fleets are indeed being implemented across the iron ore industry – just a decade later than I thought! Turns out it has been a great deal more difficult to achieve the needed level of safety, and of reliable operation, than anticipated. Rio Tinto is a leader in the field, but they have now spent a decade automating their train operations in the Pilbara and are just now reaching the point of having driverless trains operating with full loads. It’s taken them several more years and several hundred million more dollars than expected.