”The mining industry should continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, but mining companies must ramp up measures to protect worker and community safety,” said the union’s national president Tony Maher.
”The biggest issues on site are enforcement of hygiene and social distancing. Some mine operators are doing this well, others need to lift their game.
”There are also significant issues around transporting and housing non-residential workers including fly-in fly-out workers.
”Strict health and safety protocols around hygiene and social distancing must apply to camps and transport as well as mine sites.”
Four councils in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, where Woodside, Rio Tinto and Northern Minerals have projects, voted in the past week to ban non-essential travel to the region, and Broome Shire Councillor Fiona West said that should include resources industry FIFO workers.
”All goods, services and staff that are not essential to keeping our people safe, such as fly-in-fly-outs working in non-essential industries, we must close our borders to them for as long as it takes to save the lives of our leaders, elders, family members, friends and colleagues.” she said.
The comments come after several Canadian mines were closed over fears FIFO workers may carry the pandemic to vulnerable indigenous communities. and after Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned last week against travel close to remote indigenous communities.
ASX-listed Northern Minerals said it was suspending work on its Browns Range mineral sands project in the East Kimberley because it believed it would struggle to transport workers to the site amid tightening travel rules.
”The recent directives from the WA government to protect the vulnerable residents of Aboriginal communities, many of which are located in the Kimberley region, is an additional factor in this decision,” said the company in a statement.
Small towns, Indigenous communities vulnerable
Isaac Council is home to 26 Australian coking coal mines, and mayor Anne Baker said miners should follow the government’s advice for people to not leave their own suburb.
“A residential model effectively retards the risk of the virus being introduced to our region from workers commuting via planes and through airports,” she said.
“We do not want to see the mining industry shut down but there must be the safeguards for our community and industry.
”Mining companies must change their workforce model away from reliance on non-residential workers and large-scale movement of their workforce. They need to make their residential model work by utilising their existing accommodation resources.”
But the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which represents the traditional owners of the land where Energy Resources of Australia mines uranium near Kakadu National Park, said it was more worried about tourists than FIFO workers.
”As the FIFO and drive-in drive-out workforce is closely managed by the employer, the local community anticipates there is less risk posed by managed workforces than by the unregulated access to Jabiru posed by tourism,” said the GAC in a statement.
“For this reason, the community has been concerned by the recent announcement to remove visitor pass fees and to encourage visitation to Kakadu National Park.”