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Mining giant pushes ahead with driverless trucks despite outcry

CAT 793 off-highway truck
CAT 793 off-highway truck

A multinational resources company is continuing to automate its fleet of heavy vehicles in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

BHP has received the first fleet of driverless trucks at its Eastern Ridge Iron Ore Mine, 450km south of Port Hedland.

$33M cost

A total of 20 existing CAT 793 off-highway trucks at the mine are being converted to autonomous haulage technology no later than September 2020. QMEB can reveal the deal with local suppliers is worth about $33 million.

The proponent has already finished transitioning to driverless technology at its nearby Jimblebar Iron Ore Mine, which was its first fleet to be converted across the Golden State back in 2017. Since then significant events involving trucks dropped by almost 90 per cent according to the company.

Lack of consultation

BHP is separately spending $100 million on converting another 34 autonomous trucks at the Daunia Coal Mine in Coppabella, 175km southwest of Mackay. The move has been criticised by the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) because employees were allegedly not consulted enough before a decision was made.

“BHP is simply barging ahead with automation without taking into consideration the views and concerns of those workers whose livelihood is affected,” union mining and energy Queensland president Stephen Smyth said in a public statement.

“They are only consulting once their plans are already in place, when the horse has already bolted.”

No job losses

The company continues to promise there will be no job losses as a result of the transition, with management retraining more than 300 workers and adding 41 new permanent jobs.

“We have created new control centre and roles, which many of our truck operators have transitioned into, as well as new opportunities in truck maintenance and fuelling,” BHP Newman operations general manager Marie Bourgoin said.

“Importantly we have created 41 new permanent roles, which are being offered locally as well as fly-in fly-out and will continue to be filled over coming months.”

Another excuse

However, CFMEU is concerned the proponent could later find another excuse to inconspicuously downsize its workforce.

“We will hold them to their statement that no permanent or labour hire jobs will be lost due to the introduction of this fleet of autonomous trucks,” Smyth said.

“However, we expect they will find other excuses to cut jobs … unfortunately, BHP has shown through its push to replace permanent direct jobs with cheaper Operations Services labour hire jobs that profit trumps community interests every time.”

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