According to the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, thousands of FIFO workers are stuck onsite in the Pilbara, locked out of Perth, following the city’s fourth lockdown.
The WA government abruptly slammed the borders shut and implemented a four-day lockdown from Tuesday after two positive COVID-19 cases were discovered in the Perth metropolitan area.
A third positive case was identified on Wednesday. All three cases have been confirmed the ultra-transmissible Delta strain.
CFMEU Mining and Energy WA secretary Greg Busson told Australia’s Mining Monthly resources industry workers had been more than willing to do their bit, but were exhausted.
Busson wants a meeting with WA resources minister Bill Johnston as soon as possible to implement protocols to bring stability to mine workers and mining companies.
Wednesdays are when workers are normally flown back to Perth, however, due to restrictions, none will be allowed back until at least Saturday. If lockdowns are extended, FIFOs could be stuck on site even longer.
“This week’s lockdown means that thousands of workers will not be able to return home at the scheduled end of their swing this week – at least until Friday – and the other crews can’t fly up to replace them,” Busson said.
“We cannot leave workers up there forever. We need to find a way to get them back, especially if the lockdown is extended.”
Busson wants reduced roster hours to mitigate exhaustion onsite, with 12-hour shifts cut back to 10 or even eight hours.
“Like previous lockdowns, workers stuck onsite need to be put on day shifts, work reduced hours, be offered more downtime and breaks, and be placed on less high-risk duties,” he told AMM.
Busson also said counselling should be provided to ensure workers did not suffer mental health impacts.
“Our workers across WA struggled with isolation last year, finally returning to some sense of normality just weeks ago, but now things are back up in the air because of this latest shutdown. This has hit them pretty hard,” Busson said.
Busson said he understood the need for snap lockdowns and commended the WA government for acting quickly to prevent another outbreak.
“We need a tri-party meeting to put in place protocols which would give workers a sense of certainty and allow mining companies and the government to plan for future incidents,” he said.
“After all we’ll be living with this for a while.”
There has been talk of vaccinating workers onsite over recent days, with Mineral Resources managing director Chris Ellison approaching the federal government for permission to implement such a strategy.
However, Busson said vaccinations onsite may not work and said the issue should be discussed in his proposed meeting.
“Industry does offer flu vaccinations on site, but COVID-19 vaccinations are a bit of a problem because of logistics,” he told AMM.
“COVID-19 vaccines need to be transported and stored at lower temperatures, which poses a problem, but this needs to be brought up in a roundtable meeting between unions, government and companies.”
While there have been no COVID-19 cases onsite to date in WA, Busson said industry and policy makers needed to remain vigilant following the Tanami gold mine incident over the weekend.
A positive case at the Tanami gold mine in the Northern Territory, operated by Newmont, was identified on Saturday.
Approximately 700 FIFO workers were onsite. The mine was shut down and most of the workforce are isolating in their rooms. Of those workers 180 are Western Australian.
Newmont regional vice-president Alex Bates told ABC Radio the company “absolutely did not meet its obligations” and offered his wholehearted apology to workers.
Busson said protocols were needed so that if a case was identified in a mine site in WA, similar problems did not emerge here.
Nearly every state and territory in Australia has been forced into lockdowns as cases rise.
A lockdown of Alice Springs is the latest. The town joins, Perth, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria which have or are already implemented lockdowns.
South Australia and Tasmania have so far evaded lockdowns.
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