How the Australian Mining Sector Has Been Impacted by Covid-19

How the Australian Mining Sector Has Been Impacted by Covid-19

Just like the rest of the world, Australia has not been spared from the Covid-19 pandemic. After the first case was identified on 25th January in Victoria, the virus spread rapidly to other areas which prompted all industries providing non-essential services to shut down. Although many mining sites and operations are located in remote locations, they were not spared either, and had to rethink the way they operate. Additionally, they had to adapt to the safety precautions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Finally, they had to find ways to recover after things started getting back to normal.

Mining Key to Economic Recovery

After the declaration of a public health emergency in many parts of Australia, many businesses had to close. However, state, territory and national resources ministers across Australia deemed mining, construction and retail businesses as key to economic recovery. Because of this, mining was placed on the list of essential sectors which saw it roar back to life and continue functioning.
The mining industry employs so many people in Queensland and so the government pledged to put measures in place to ensure people kept their livelihoods and that they were protected from the virus to stop its spread.

Hiring New Talent

Responding to the pandemic in March, Australian mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP put in place programmes that would support Australia's mining industry.

BHP hired 1500 employees to work in coal, iron ore and copper production. These new employees were given six-month contracts and their jobs covered several areas where BHP needed skilled labour.

Some of the roles handed out include ancillary equipment drivers, diesel mechanics, trade assistants, electricians, excavator operators and many others. The people given these roles would work in various mines located in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales.

At the same time, Rio Tinto was recruiting graduates, skilled apprentices and aboriginal trainees. These new workers would fill positions in the Pilbara region in West Australia. Rio Tinto has already said it will invest over A$10 billion in the region in the next three years.

According to Rio Tinto, they have hired a much more diverse workforce in 2020 and the number of graduates they have employed has grown by over 25%.

Rio Pinto Put Up Safety Measures

Rio Pinto, a massive Anglo-Australian company, has already slowed down operations in Africa and Canada. However, their operations in Australia have continued uninterrupted.

Rio Tinto has put measures in place to protect those who continue to work for them in the Pilbara region. Some of these include health checks at the airport to ensure any workers coming from the big cities are properly screened and healthy enough, plus an alternating two-week work schedule for all its 1200 employees in the region.

Rio Tinto has also put measures in place to keep productivity high while ensuring the safety of its employees. These include questionnaires to help with screenings and hotlines to help employees get medical assessments from advisors.

Australian Miners Allowed to Source Equipment

On 27th April 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gave interim authorisation for the Australian Aluminium Council, Minerals Council of Australia and State resource bodies to source safety equipment under a joint effort.

This paved the way for 280 companies to work together on the issues of getting the right working and safety equipment so that miners could continue to work safely without risking their lives due to working in the middle of a pandemic.

This gave a reprieve to companies that supply mining equipment such as Sandvik surface Drill Rigs or Sandvik Surface drill rig parts. Companies like Complete Field Maintenance that sell these Sandvik parts and rigs could now work with mining companies. Complete Field Maintenance supports the Australian mining industry by supplying quality mining parts and rigs for all different mining arrangements and situations.

The commissions would later clarify that working with other players in the mining sector was important, and if they did not take the steps to support these suppliers of parts and services, they would not be able to support the families, jobs, communities and small businesses that rely on the mining industry.

Roadmap for post-Covid-19 Recovery

In May 2020, the Mineral Council of Australia asked the federal government to put in place measures that would help with the recovery of the sector once the pandemic is over.
After this request went through, the Mineral Council of Australia put forth a document called 'Immediate Reform Priorities to Accelerate Economic Recovery'. This document has measures to help the sector recover including lower tax rates, flexible workplaces, mining reforms and faster project approvals.

One example of the proposed measures included the lowering of the company tax rate of 30% which is deemed too high by many of the players in the industry. Additionally, they say this tax rate hampers their ability to remain internationally competitive.