Bidding war begins as WA once again searches for workers to fuel a mining boom

5 Dec 2019

Article by Kathryn Diss via ABC NEWS

Last time the workers flew in from all over the country and abroad to earn the big money on Western Australia’s iron ore mines. Companies were offering ridiculous wages and conditions.

But when the mining boom ended, the workers moved on.

Five years later and the iron ore game is again ramping up, but poaching the workers needed might not be as easy this time around.

“We’re already seeing a bidding war in certain occupations and skill sets,” BIS Oxford Economics senior economist Adrian Hart said.

“It’s not being reflected across the broader construction price index which are still very weak, but we are seeing certain skill sets where we are seeing higher wages bid.

“The mistake NSW and Victoria have made is that they assumed Western Australia and Queensland would remain weak for many years, but we’re starting to see recovery in WA and Queensland.

“That means it’s going to be tougher all round for NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland to secure skills going forward.”

Bidding war as projects ramp up

The rapid turnaround in fortunes in the jobs market shows just how much weight the iron ore heavies have when they pull the trigger on new construction.

BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group are building new mines — all at the same time. This will require about 6,000 construction workers


PHOTO: Phil Thick describes lithium as a new frontier for WA. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

While the level of investment does not match the height of the mining boom, everyone deciding to build at the same time is exactly what happened last time, and this tends to lead to a bidding war for workers.

“They’re very large projects, they’re all underway at the moment and that will really flow through over the next 18 months,” Katana Asset Management’s Romano Sala Tenna said.

“We’re also starting to see some other projects coming through from lithium and new players, which is a new boost for this state.”

WA is home to massive lithium deposits, now in huge demand for use in batteries for electric cars and home power storage devices.

Just two years ago it was considered a fringe commodity, but now it is a rapidly growing industry that is creating jobs in mining the metal, and processing is also taking place on home soil for the first time.

“This is a new frontier for WA,” Tianqi Lithium Australia general manager Phil Thick said.

“This is a first in this industry and our plant has sort of set the scene for other companies to look at doing the same.”

Mr Thick said the company tried to employ local people where possible, but there were challenges.

“It is an ageing workforce down here in Kwinana so we have to work with education, with the schools, with apprenticeships and keep that supply chain coming through for the right people with the right skills,” he said.


PHOTO: Lithium is not just being mined in WA, but is being processed locally too. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Job ads reflect need for workers

Western Australia’s latest skills shortage list reveals a growing need for automotive, construction and engineering trades workers.

The trend is also being reflected in job ads which are considered a key indicator of how the market is travelling.

Job advertisements on website SEEK, reveal the number of mining sector jobs on offer jumped 40 per cent between March to May this year compared to the same time in 2017.

Job advertisements have surged this year compared to last year, and miners are needed most