By Mick Buchan, State Secretary, CFMEU Construction & General WA
Yesterday the Chamber of Minerals and Energy, a front for the biggest mining companies in Australia, came out to say they wanted an extra 30,000 migrant workers in Western Australia.
Calling for increased migrant workers as soon as there is the slightest upward pressure on wages in our State is just so painfully predictable.
They’re champions of the ‘free market’ when there’s an opportunity to use market force to drive down wages and conditions. But as soon as the market creates upward pressure, they want Government intervention.
For a decade now, the big mining companies like Rio and BHP have systematically resisted calls for more investment in training.
They’ve been cutting wages by using aggressive and predatory tendering practices to screw down the cost of their contracts with subcontractors across all parts of their operations.
They’ve been taking the profits from our natural resources and making sure as little as possible goes back into the West Australian economy.
They’ve been employing less and less people directly and using more and more labour hire arrangements that don’t provide the security and basic work opportunities that people need to maintain a viable career in one sector.
Chronic underinvestment by the big miners has been the single biggest factor in the hollowing out and degrading of our local workforce capacity in the resources sector.
But now that demand for good workers is on the rise, they want to ship in workers from overseas and interstate to flood the market with cheaper labour. They want to, once again, try to keep wages artificially low.
And they want to allow for those wages to go back interstate or overseas and never be spent here in WA.
Every single time one of these so-called ‘industry’ lobby groups have convinced Governments to allow increased migrant workers, it’s led to chronic exploitation, wage gouging, theft, and an undermining of minimum local standards and work practices.
Just last week we saw yet another report into migrant farm workers in NSW that showed only 2 percent were being paid what is supposed to be the minimum wage in this country. Seriously, 2 percent!
Importing a migrant workforce that is willing to work for less than the actual cost of living here in WA is no solution. All that does is rob local workers of job opportunities and rob the WA economy of local wages.
What we need more than anything right now is money going into the pocket of local workers that will be spent in local shops and cafes and small businesses right across the State.
That means training and employing workers who live, work and spend their money right here in WA. And paying them and their families a fair share of the staggering profits that are being made off our resources.
We have an unemployment rate of 4.2% and an underemployment rate of 7.2%. Our Union is constantly taking enquiries from good workers looking for work.
If the Chamber of Minerals and Energy can’t source appropriately skilled local workers in that environment, then they are the victims of their own short-sighted, money-grabbing, chronic underinvestment in training, decent wages, livable working conditions, industry standards, and the active management of a viable local workforce.
Our Union is on record on this issue. The problem were fully foreseen, and the solutions were fully known. We have been saying for years that chronic underinvestment in this industry would come back and bite us. And now that it is, the big mining companies want the people of WA to pay the bill.
Once again, they take the profits and West Australian workers pay the price.