Coronavirus: latest info for mining & FIFO jobseekers

How has coronavirus changed the mining industry and what does it mean for jobseekers wanting mining and FIFO jobs?

The coronavirus pandemic is causing chaos around the world and the Australian mining industry has not been immune to its impact. If you’re a jobseeker looking for a mining job, you might be confused about your job prospects right now, and how coronavirus might affect them.

The information below is provided specifically to help you at this confusing and worrying time. It will be regularly updated with the latest information, as it becomes available. It is based on the best information we have from official sources, and the experience of our team of experts, based on what we’re seeing every day.

This version of the article was updated on 6 April and was, to the best of our knowledge, accurate at the time of publication. Obviously the situation with coronavirus is quite fluid, so things may have changed slightly by the time you read this.

Is it business as usual in the mining industry right now, despite coronavirus?

In short, no. 

While many with office jobs might be able to work from home, mining throws up some particular challenges that the industry has had to address: flights to remote areas, onsite transport, tight workspaces and shared living areas all make social distancing difficult.

The practicalities and concerns over the virus have led some companies to stand down teams (Woodside stood down offshore staff early in the crisis) and others to hire more (BHP offered 1500 new six-month contracts to people who’d lost their jobs because of coronavirus).

But there is a general acceptance that the mining industry in Australia is “essential” and will play a vital role in mitigating the economic impacts of the virus.

Mining People International Principal Consultant, Professional and Technical, Tony Turton, said while governments and mining companies hope things will return to normal as soon as possible, “each company has differing views on how that might be achieved”.

How has coronavirus impacted FIFO job opportunities?

State Governments, including Western Australia and Queensland, have locked down state borders, with crossings only allowed in a very few exceptional circumstances. 

In WA, one of those exceptional circumstances is for FIFO workers and their families to enter WA for work. However, the entire family must go into quarantine for 14 days after they arrive.

In short, your whole family is moving to WA until this pandemic is over.

“Certainly the new 14-day isolation requirements mean that people cannot undertake FIFO work between states,” Tony said. 

“An obvious consequence of the border lockdowns is that job opportunities are largely going to be offered only to people living in the state in which the operation is based.” 

What precautions are the mining industry taking for coronavirus?

“One significant development is the changes in work rosters being implemented by most mining companies,” Tony said.

In some cases work rosters have been extended from eight days on, six off, to three weeks on, three off, or four weeks on, four off. 

“Generally speaking, the motivation of these roster changes is to reduce the potential for the virus to spread via the one common thread between sites, the airports.” 

Flights to site are now generally only half-full, allowing each worker to have an empty seat beside them.

Before boarding the plane FIFO workers must fill in a questionnaire, sign a statutory declaration, and have a temperature check. Temperatures are checked again when the plane arrives at site.

Social distancing rules mean those onsite must remain 1.5 metres apart at all times. To achieve this, on many sites mealtimes have been staggered to allow fewer people into the dry mess at any given time. Queuing is now common at both dry and wet messes.

Surfaces across camps are regularly disinfected, and all workers must regularly wash their hands with soap.

How is coronavirus expected to impact mining job opportunities in the coming months?

Tony said different companies are responding in different ways.

“Some companies are employing additional staff and carrying some additional people on the expectations of people within their business developing symptoms and needing to self-isolate at home,” he said.

“Others are trying to lock down their site and are offering people accommodation in local communities, or in some cases, providing temporary accommodation in Perth for staff who have been commuting from the east coast.” 

Does coronavirus mean fewer people are looking for mining jobs?

“The hard lockdown of the borders is going to restrict people travelling across borders and so this will impact the market to some extent,” Tony said.

“As yet, we haven’t become aware of any wholesale limitations on the availability of candidates who have contracted COVID-19, or been in contact with those people and so are forced to self-isolate.” 

But there are also a few more experienced mining jobseekers now unexpectedly looking for work.

“People who have been working offshore and found themselves repatriated back to Australia, and unable to return to work for the foreseeable future, are now available to work here in Australia in the interim,” Tony said. “So they are available to work for companies here in Australia should they have some short-term or contract requirements.”

How do mining job interviews work during the coronavirus crisis?

Interviews now are done by video only, as the social distancing and self-isolation requirements make it unwise and impractical to complete in person. 

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Dan Hatch
Mining People International