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FIFO inquiry calls for end of “postcode discrimination”

Airplane is landing at the sunset.

A parliamentary report into the fly-in fly-out work practices in regional Queensland has slammed ‘postcode discrimination’ and has called for change.

The report, released on Friday, recommends changing the anti-discrimination act, so mining companies cannot refuse to employ workers based on where they live.

It also recommends compliance checking in temporary accommodation village, with minimum standards that include a variety of healthy food options, access to communication services, recreational areas, and no ‘hot-bedding’ or ‘motelling’.

An increase of mental health services for FIFO workers was also reccomended.

Parliamentary Chair Jim Pearce said while the committee travelled throughout regional Queensland, the “overwhelming message” was that a person should have a choice as to where they live for work and equal access to job opportunities.

“Submitters to the inquiry advocated for the up to 100 per cent FIFO condition of a mine approval to be removed so that any candidate for a job at a mine be permitted to apply for a position without a requirement to live in an area determined by the employer,” Mr Pearce said.

“A fundamental recommendation of the committee’s inquiry is for the government to consider amending the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 to include location as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

“It is clear to me that this inquiry has demonstrated the need for all resource companies to proactively demonstrate their social licence to operate which would start with ending ‘postcode discrimination’.”

Mr Pearce said the government and mining companies have an obligation to ensure employment are able to be accessed by all.

“Genuine choice means workers being able to make their own informed decision about where they live for work,” he said.

“Workers should also be given the choice about whether they live in an accommodation village or in a nearby resource community with their family.”

FIFO report contains “no surprises”

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the Queensland Government’s Parliamentary Committee report contains few surprises.

“The Committee’s report and recommendations appears to have been coloured by the approval back in 2011 for two mines in the Bowen Basin to have up to a 100 per cent FIFO operational workforce. Those approvals were given in a very different part of the economic cycle,” Mr Roche said.

“The reality is that the concept of a 100 per cent FIFO mine in the Bowen Basin is a furphy.

“There are only two mines in all of the Bowen Basin that have approval for a 100 per cent FIFO workforce and even at those two mines there are hundreds of local contractors and small businesses supporting those operations.”

Mr Roche said it was disappointing that the report “largely ignored” the views of frontline resource sector workers, as clearly expressed in the independent survey of 1832 workers at resource operations around Queensland which was presented to the committee five weeks ago.

“A centrepiece of the report appears to be a recommendation that the government considers amending the Anti-Discrimination Act to include location as a prohibited ground of discrimination,” Mr Roche said.

“The QRC will seek expert legal advice on the ramifications of such an amendment, but on the face of it this proposal seems to be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“The reality is that the workforce survey revealed that better than four out of five employees would not change where they live or their accommodation arrangements even if they were given the opportunity. This really calls into question the need for any legislative amendment.

“The survey also showed that 85 per cent of resource industry workers from around Queensland regard their physical and mental health and quality of life as either excellent, very good or good.

“The report, however, appears to call into question the adequacy and confidentiality of mental health support services being provided by resource companies. We will need to take the time to better understand the Committee’s thinking behind such recommendations.

“The report’s focus on mental health and FIFO workers is not supported by any evidence that the mental health of FIFO workers is different from that of residential workers or of the broader community.”

Mr Roche commented on the report questioning the standards of employer provided accommodation, despite the workforce survey finding that 79 per cent of workers were satisfied or very satisfied with the standard of their employer provided accommodation.

“The important message from workers is that they want to have the choice of where they live and they don’t want that choice taken away from them. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to worker accommodation,” he said.

“There can be no doubt that regional communities, especially in central and north Queensland, are hurting from the loss of around 9000 jobs from the coal industry and the associated flow-on to businesses that service the industry.”

 

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