Australian mining stands united on safety against COVID-19

Monday, 20 April, 2020

Australian mining stands united on safety against COVID-19

The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division (CFMMEU) and the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) have released a joint statement setting out the sector’s commitment to the health and safety of those in the Australian mining industry amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which they describe as “the most significant disruption to daily life since the Second World War”. “The measures currently being undertaken to attempt to control the spread of the pandemic are unprecedented, and no aspect of Australian social life or the economy will remain unaffected,” the sector said in its statement. “This is as true for the mining industry as any other part of our economy. Yet the continuation of productive activity in the mining industry is vitally important.”

More than one million Australians are employed in the resources sector, which is responsible for 58% of the country’s export income, which the statement says “Australia needs […] to fund initiatives for the benefit of all Australians”. Yet the key message of the sector’s statement was one of solidarity on safety. “The safety and well-being of mine workers and the communities they live and work in are paramount,” the statement read. “Measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic must be based on an acceptance that the safety and well-being of the Australian community is the highest priority. Within this framework, the safety and well-being of the resources sector workforce is nonnegotiable, despite the myriad practical challenges now and ahead.”

Mining safety framework

In their statement, the sector said that existing models of employment should be maintained, “provided the safety and well-being of mine workers and local communities is not compromised”. Further, as part of its particular response to the COVID-19 crisis, a number of protocols are being implemented to help confront the challenges of the pandemic and uphold health and safety. These include:

  • strict measures and processes to minimise risk of exposure to COVID-19 among the workforce, and for encouraging self-isolation by workers;
  • comprehensive systems to manage any positive COVID-19 tests for miners at a mine site, or who have attended a mine site, but with quarantine only happening in exceptional circumstances;
  • appropriate travel and accommodation precautions for fly in, fly out (FIFO) and drive in, drive out (DIDO) workers; and
  • education and communication programs with mine workers and their local communities.

The measures in this framework are to be monitored in line with adequacy and effectiveness during regular State Mine Safety Advisory Councils meetings. A commitment to minimise any long-term job losses in the industry and for employers to meet any medical costs associated with COVID-19 was also expressed.

“The adoption of these policies will ensure that when Australia emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, a strong mining sector and a safe and healthy workforce will ensure Australia’s speedy economic recovery is delivered for the benefit of all Australians,” the sector said. “In these tough times, the sector remains focused on operating safely as an essential industry which supports workers, families, local communities and Australia. That is why the AWU, CFMMEU and MCA are united in their determination to ensure the sector can continue to be a critical part of the Australian economy.”

The sector also used the statement as an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of our frontline healthcare workers. “As the overseas experience demonstrates, the health sector workforce will also face enormous challenges in the coming weeks and months and the dangers and burden of confronting COVID-19 will fall disproportionately on the shoulders of nurses, doctors and other health workers. In dealing with our own challenges, we should recognise and support the contribution of Australia’s health workers and others in the community who are in the frontline of dealing with the pandemic,” the statement concluded.

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