Lack of resources biting mining service communities

BEING able to offer both residential and commuting options for resources sector employees is essential.

Increasingly, companies are responding to the expectations of a mobile workforce whose qualifications and experience are as highly valued interstate and overseas as they should be here.

In 2012, the Queensland Resources Council secured valuable insight into what living arrangements best suit sector workers.

In collaboration with researchers URS, a statewide resources worker accommodation survey recorded the views of 2275 men and women working in the Bowen and Surat Basins and North West Queensland.

Just over 1200 of those were residential workers and just over 1000 commuted.

Significantly, the results contradicted popular misconceptions with the groups sharing similar demographic profiles, family characteristics and time spent in the industry.

In short, the survey found that resident workers preferred their living arrangements because it suited their lifestyle and family circumstances. Non-resident workers preferred to commute for the same reasons.

Once more contrary to perceptions, 60 per cent of non-resident workers had been employed in the sector for five or more years, with almost three-quarters of them either owning or buying a house in their preferred place of residence - mostly coastal towns.

The survey also revealed that about one in 10 non-resident workers had an interest in purchasing a house close to their work, while an equivalent number were interested in migrating from resident to non-resident status.

These findings reinforced with companies the real risk of losing talented people because of a lack of accommodation choice.

Obviously, choice can't be extended to each and every resources site, but across Queensland it is clear that accommodation options are important decision-making tools for employees.

Of the more than 50 operating coal mines in Queensland, just two operate with a 100 per cent commuting workforce and even then about 100 support roles are filled locally.

Not everyone wants to commute. Resources companies don't want to see employees and their families choosing that option by default because of a lack of key services in resource communities.

This is at the heart of the QRC's pre-budget submission to the state government.

We want the government to bring forward its Royalties for the Regions monies and focus them on host communities such as Bowen Basin mining towns.

The program is channelling a proportion of state royalties back into resource regions for community infrastructure development.

The Newman government embraced the concept before the 2012 election in response to a joint submission from the QRC and Local Government Association of Queensland.

Obviously, we continue to support the program, and our members are telling us that funding needs to be increased substantially.

This could be achieved without lasting pain for the Treasurer by bringing forward funds allocated beyond the budget's forward estimates.

The focus of Royalties for the Regions is vitally important given some of the financial pressures on resource regions fall outside traditional government funding mechanisms.

Many of the social infrastructure issues confronting resource communities are the result of negligible or poor planning.

Sadly, a lack of community amenity is affecting the decision-making of those considering residential lifestyle options.

The bottom line for QRC members is that the sector needs to be attractive to those who want to live near their place of work and those whose preference is to commute.

The role of governments is not dictating where workers live or how companies recruit, but in ensuring that workers are not forced into the commuting option because of a lack of key services in resource communities.

-Michael Roche is the chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council

Topics:  mining queensland resources council

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