Australia.- With little industry guidance and no widely adopted standards for engaging and employing Indigenous contractors, mining companies have struggled to boost the number of Indigenous people employed in the industry throughout the boom.
Now the industry’s downturn is well and truly in place and an Aboriginal mining group has released a new report.
They are hoping the report will change the situation and see more companies successfully navigate the difficult tendering process for contracts from miners.
The report has been produced by Aboriginal Enterprises in Mining, Exploration and Energy (AEMEE), gas company QGC and the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining.
It aims to highlight the mining industry’s leading companies in Aboriginal employment, with a view to creating guidelines based on what leaders in the field have found works best.
One of the report’s authors, University of Queensland adjunct professor Bruce Harvey said efforts to significantly raise levels of Indigenous employment throughout the mining boom had been patchy at best.
“Some companies have done well, some have done not so well and some probably have not even tried,” he said.
“There is an industry downturn right now, which means it is very difficult for everybody.”
The report focuses exclusively on contractors because mining companies do not directly employ many people on site.
Rather, companies tender for contracts in extraction, processing, catering, cleaning and many other roles.
Success story means a win for all
The Antakirnja Matu Yankunytjara Aboriginal Corporation (AMYAC) successfully tendered for two contracts with South Australian copper miner, Oz Minerals.
It won a waste management contract at the company’s Prominent Hill mine, 650 kilometres north west of Adelaide, and through a joint venture, another contract for crushing ore.
AMYAC chair Ian Crombie said competing for the tender forced the company up a steep learning curve.
“We had a lot of competitors and a lot of other organisations that could equal or be greater than our company,” he said.
“We had to compete in a mainstream way to show them we had the ability and that we could deliver what we promised.
“It was part of a learning curve for us to grow and to move forward in terms of future endeavours for mining and social provisions for our community.”
Mr Crombie said the returns to the company were being used to up-skill employees, making the company more likely to win contracts in the future.
Profits were also used to help members of the community in need of food, shelter, medical treatment and other important welfare requirements.
Company inertia on guidelines and benchmarks
Professor Harvey said widespread engagement with Indigenous companies and employees in the mining industry had largely failed because of a lack of guidelines and benchmarks.
“Mining companies are a very tough master,” he said.
“People have to work according to a set of compliance requirements around health and safety, transparency, governance.
“It’s very hard to add in extra work to the huge workload that people have already got.
“So pure inertia is driven by people saying ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly do more than I’m doing now’.”
It is a sentiment shared by Michael Limerick, who works to promote a memorandum of understanding between the Queensland Resources Council and the State government to raise Indigenous employment in the resources sector.
He said because the report was based on real experiences of companies, it had a good chance of making a positive difference.
“There isn’t a textbook for this stuff; engaging more Indigenous businesses is a really complex endeavour that relies on trial and error,” Mr Limerick said.
“The great thing about these sorts of reports and case studies is they document what’s working well on the ground, because practitioners will only learn from seeing examples.
“They can’t go and do a course on this sort of thing; it’s real-world leaning that makes the difference.”