Friday 20 February 2009

Aboriginal employment and safety policies are mutually incompatible

I've just had a few beers, and the odd loud conversation with an old buddy, so I will try to type this with a minimum of spelling errors and grammatical atrocities.

Loudmouth (as I will call him, since he woke the kids up, and the neighbours) let on that many of our "progressive" mining companies have decided to spread the largess of the mineral boom around by creating employment programs for blackfellas up north. (Given the plunging prices for most minerals, we'll see how long these things last once the real world returns to the mining sector - or the Chinese buy up all our overextended miners).

The aim is 10% - I'm not entirely sure what 10% means. It might mean having 10% of the mining workforce being Aboriginal, or maybe getting the Aboriginal employment rate up to 10%. It's been a while since I've had a beer or three, so things like that are a bit hazy.

The companies are having a bastard of a time reaching that number and staying there. A big factor is the modern safety culture (which I have experienced first hand). LTI's (lost time injuries) are a huge no-no. An enormous amount of time and money has been spent ensuring that the modern miner doesn't blow himself (or his mates) up, or roll an expensive haul pack off an access road. If you ask me, it's working. Unlike the Chinese, we tend not to kill many miners these days. The mean streets of Five Wog on a Friday night are probably more dangerous than even our most unsafe mines, which are full of high explosive, lots of rock, heavy machinery and hundred tonne trucks trundling to and fro.

The modern safety culture though is all about policies, procedures and forms. There is a policy and a MSDS (material safety data sheet) for everything. You cannot work in a modern safety environment unless you can read and write - and read and write to graduate level. The mines are no longer employing people that left school at 15 - you need more education than that to safely drive a truck. Even completing high school is not enough - you need to have gone on to complete several years of higher education (even if that consisted of finger painting at TAFE).

You need to be able to demonstrate that you can read and comprehend instructions, that you have the smarts to figure things out for yourself, and you can write a report if you identify a safety risk or hazard. Boneheads need not apply.

There are not many blackfellas up north who have completed 3 years of Uni, let alone 2 years of TAFE - let alone continued schooling after age 15. As a result, new recruits have to be put through a 12 week "ready for work" program, which starts with someone going door to door and waking them up in the morning. Lesson number 1 is that when you have a job, you need to turn up each day on time - like at the start of a shift. They're paid $2200 a week from the start of the course - the same as a qualified haulpack driver for instance.

I won't go into all we talked about, but I think that the mining companies have started to realise that it's all too hard. No company is going to put a borderline employee in charge of a 200 tonne haulpack. Many of the blackfellas they've taken on board simply have no grasp of a safety culture - none whatsoever. They are a clear and present danger to all concerned.

So what they've ended up doing is parking lots of aboriginal women in the offices, where they are given make-work jobs, and that gets them up to the magic 10%.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

You can create a target. You can create a bureaucratic program. You can issue a press release full of good news and good intentions. But it's a lot harder to change the reality on the ground.


kae said...





kae said...

That's a ridiculous waste of money.

I'm sure it looks good on paper.

WV: grarg

bikeonaboy said...

Sorry, I haz too many drinks to find the splelcheck icon.

Margo's Maid said...

I worked at a smelter a few years ago, BOAB, so I know what you're on about - you couldn't pick up a box without filling out a form. Bosses can wind up in jail if there is a workplace death, so they tend to take it seriously.

Wouldn't at all be surprised to see an accident caused by the culture clash that you're talking about.