AUTOMATION: A Komatsu autonomous haulage truck. Picture: Christian Sprogoe Photography.
AUTOMATION: A Komatsu autonomous haulage truck. Picture: Christian Sprogoe Photography.

‘We’re not against technology’: Job fears over automation

THE CFMEU has put forward a list of demands to a mining giant in a bid to stem what it claims will be “potentially hundreds of job losses” at a Central Queensland mine site.

BHP Mitsubishi Alliance announced on Tuesday it would rollout driverless vehicle technology with a fleet of up to 86 Komatsu trucks over the next two years at its Goonyella Riverside mine.

The site will become the first on Australia’s east coast to introduce large scale automation.

The company said there would be no forced employee redundancies at Goonyella Riverside as a result of the decision.

A BMA spokesman said the shift to autonomous haulage will affect production and maintenance employees, but new roles would be created across production, maintenance, control and technology.

Goonyella Riverside general manager Sean Milfull said the existing workforce would be skilled up to work on ancillary equipment.

“From a safety perspective the safety benefits are enormous. Our Jimblebar operation in Western Australia has seen an 80 to 90 per cent reduction in significant incidents (since the introduction of autonomous haulage),” Mr Milfull said.

“The other benefit is around the opportunity of improved productivity.”

AUTOMATION: Sean Milfull, the general manager at Goonyella Riverside. Picture: Nat Dixon
AUTOMATION: Sean Milfull, the general manager at Goonyella Riverside. Picture: Nat Dixon

But industry leaders are divided over the potential impact of automation on the workforce.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said he “struggled to accept” BMA’s claim of no redundancies.

“I think there will be potentially hundreds of jobs lost,” Mr Smyth said.

“The CFMEU certainly see through this – we think it’s all about BMA ensuring their shareholders continue to reap heaps of profits and heaps of money.

“We’re not against technology, but there’s got to be proper engagement and consultation.”

The union is calling on BHP to commit to no forced redundancies for workers affected by automation, additional jobs and apprenticeships in other areas of the business, and remote operations centres to be based on or near affected mines.

Mr Milfull said BMA had been speaking to its workforce and the local community about the potential for increased automation for several months.

“It hasn’t just been the workforce, we’ve been engaging with state and local governments, schools and universities in talking about potential opportunities if we were to proceed with automation,” he said.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland District president Stephen Smyth
CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland District president Stephen Smyth

Resource Industry Network general manager Adrienne Rourke said automation would not impact Mackay’s status as a mining, equipment, technology and services hub.

“The research shows the mining sector is not going to be significantly impacted as a result of automation,” Ms Rourke said.

“There’s certainly opportunities for Mackay to be involved and to make sure we’re leading the way in terms of digital transformation.”

BMA’s announcement has “shocked” Dawson MP George Christensen, who was in talks with a senior company representative on Tuesday.

“While I am glad to hear the company has announced no forced redundancies, I advised BMA’s representative in no uncertain terms that the support for the mining industry in the Mackay region and across North Queensland would quickly dissipate if there were widespread job losses caused by automation,” Mr Christensen said.

“I also call on the Queensland Government to set the rules on how mining operations run to ensure that jobs remain where the holes are dug.

“The Queensland Government should step in, in any instance where local jobs are going to be lost or displaced because of automation, and particularly when automation control centre jobs are shifted to a capital city.”

LNP leader Deb Frecklington said approvals for Goonyella Riverside should be reviewed in light of the company’s decision.