Mining through COVID-19

Friday, 03 April, 2020

Mining through COVID-19

Key representatives of Australia’s mining workers and companies, together with regulators such as the NSW Resources Regulator, have issued statements in support of safety and sustainability in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

These representatives have also offered guidance and resources to assist employers in safeguarding workers during this time. We take a look at a few of these responses from across the mining sector.

CFMEU Mining & Energy and Australian Workers’ Union

In a joint statement from the Mining and Energy Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU Mining & Energy) and the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), CFMEU Mining & Energy National President Tony Maher and AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said that major mining companies must meet their responsibilities to workers and their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the spread of COVID-19, the two unions representing Australian mine workers have put forth a proposal for six actions that mining companies should adopt as a minimum in the face of the pandemic.

Included in these actions is the view that, should workers be made to self-isolate as a result of a government edict or due to potential exposure to COVID-19, that the mine worker’s employer should pay the worker as if they were at work and for any rostered shifts that were not undertaken due to self-isolation. This includes funding for rostered shifts of labour hire casual employees. “The Australian mining industry has been an economic success story and the workers that comprise the industry have been central to this success,” Maher and Walton said. “The big mining companies have done well in recent years and it is now time for those companies to help cushion the blow of COVID-19 impacts on mine workers.”

Suicide prevention charity MATES in Mining has also released a fact sheet titled ‘Coping with COVID-19’, which is available on the CFMEU Mining & Energy’s website.

Minerals Council of Australia

Tania Constable, Chief Executive Officer of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), has outlined solidarity initiatives taking place across the sector amid COVID-19. “Australia’s minerals industry is working together to ensure its workforce is safe and healthy and mining remains strong and sustainable during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Constable said. “Health and safety is the number one priority of Australia’s minerals sector and the industry is taking a range of measures to protect its workforce, families and communities from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.” MCA has a COVID-19 Working Group that is made up of senior member company representatives and state associations. In meeting, the working group outlined a number of challenges that the sector faces.

“The challenges outlined by Working Group members included workforce movement restrictions, pressure on infrastructure such as ports, rail networks and community health facilities, and medium-term equipment and consumables supply risks,” Constable said. “The industry continues to share best practice in relation to protective measures, workforce health and other areas in line with official advice.” The Working Group also “acknowledged the National Cabinet’s exemption of mine sites from its ban on gatherings of more than 100 people and the Prime Minister’s strong statements on panic buying, hoarding and the need for national unity, all of which have an impact on regional communities”, Constable added.

NSW Resources Regulator

One example of regulator-issued guidance can be found in NSW. The NSW Resources Regulator advises that the within its state the sector should keep up to date with state-based health advice (in this case, NSW Health) in regard to controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including any restrictions on normal business activities and to respond accordingly. Those in the mining and petroleum industry are also advised to review their business continuity plans. While COVID-19 is not a notifiable illness, businesses are urged to seek advice from NSW Health and inform the NSW Resources Regulator should a worker or employee contract COVID-19. This would not require the provision of personal details of the person(s) affected. This is important not only to protect staff but also to reduce the likelihood of further inadvertent transmission of the virus, the regulator has advised.

The NSW Resources Regulator has implemented a response plan, with advice from NSW Health, to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The incident reporting hotline (1300 814 609) will remain operational on a 24/7 basis, under all currently foreseeable circumstances. The NSW Resources Regulator’s mine assessment activities and response to critical incidents at mine sites will continue on a limited basis, subject to an ongoing assessment of risk. Other activities coordinated by the NSW Resources Regulator, such as conferences, forums and training courses, are being moved to alternative methods of delivery, such as videoconferencing, or being deferred where appropriate. It will strive to provide advance notice of any activity cancellations, and licensing, registration and other approval activities are continuing as normal.

The NSW Resources Regulator also stated that, as the COVID-19 situation progresses, operators may experience increasing difficulties in meeting some regulatory obligations. Those anticipating or experiencing issues with complying with regulatory obligations should contact the NSW Resources Regulator as soon as they become aware of these. Under NSW work health and safety (WHS) laws, employers must implement measures to eliminate or manage the risks arising from COVID-19. Employers must keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 information and advice, by monitoring the information provided by NSW Health and the Australian Government. While employers cannot completely eliminate the risk of workers contracting COVID-19 while carrying out work, they must do all that is reasonably practicable to minimise that risk. The NSW Resources Regulator will continue to provide information about significant developments that affect the NSW mining and petroleum industry.

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