WA Pushes to Reinstate Drillers After Skilled Occupation List Removal

The House of Representatives member for Western Australia, Rick Wilson, has vowed to push the Turnbull government to address a skills shortage that he says is seriously hindering the Goldfields mining industry.

The issue began last year with the Federal Government’s decision to remove drillers from the skilled occupation list, a move which only compounded problems caused by the lack of locally available Australian talent.

The exclusion has prompted numerous mining executives—such as Ausdrill head Ron Sayers, and DDH1 Drilling boss Murray Pollock—to publicly call on the government to reverse their decision. They say this is of crucial importance as the industry experiences another activity ramp-up after the downturn.

In response, Wilson vowed to bring the issue to the Minister for the Department of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, in an attempt to reverse the decision to remove drillers from the skilled occupation list.

“We understand the labour market is constantly changing and the skilled migration list will be reviewed in July this year,” Wilson said.

“Given I’m starting to hear about some concerns from industry based in the Goldfields, I’ll be writing to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to clarify the Government’s rationale for this and what options we might have in the short term.”

The industry is also facing challenges in retaining lower-level staff, with Kalgoorlie-based mining firm Topdrill experiencing a problematically high turn-over rate. Certain drilling companies have even been forced to hire local backpackers to take on some short-term roles, thanks to a rising demand for gold that is currently breaching mining-boom levels.

According to Topdrill general manager, Rob Connor, “we keep our senior people, our drillers and our supervisors, but entry-level staff, that offsider phase, turnover is up around 55 per cent”.

“So it’s just a revolving door and that’s going to be the biggest issue to any further expansion of our business and to servicing the contracts that we have. At any point in time we need another 30 guys, so it’s a balancing act to try and keep it all together and keep it all running.”

“We struggle, and we’ve tried backpackers, we’ve tried everyone, to fill these entry-level positions,” Connor said.

Rick Wilson has also invited the Minister for Jobs and Employment, Michaelia Cash, to visit the region to offer her assessment of the skills-shortage issue.

“My preference is always to address shortages in the labour market by employing Australians before we look at migrant visa programs,” Wilson said.

“We’ve also been working hard to address some of the social problems in the Goldfields, which have been identified as one of the factors contributing to the issue.”

According to a Senior Migration Agent for Absolute Immigration, Grant Frankcombe, there may also be other ways of bringing in the foreign workers that are needed for the industry to stay afloat.

“Labour Agreements are also a way for companies to gain access to skilled workers from overseas when there is a demand that cannot be met from the local Australian workforce, and where existing visa programs are not available,” Frankcombe said.

“Absolute Immigration can assist client with strategies to meet their workforce needs.”

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