Mining job losses at the lower end of the scale

OFFICIAL data shows the mining sector has experienced some job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, but nowhere near as many as harder-hit sectors like hospitality and tourism.
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Statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday showed mining industry employment was down 2.9% between March 14 and April 18 and 0.5% between April 11 and April 18.

Only the utilities, financial and insurance and education and training sectors fared better.

The average for all industries was a 7.5% decline in jobs.

Mining fared worse on wages, which were down 11.6% between March 14 and April 18, but up 1.8% between April 11 and April 18.

The average was an 8.2% drop in wages over the five-week period.

Geographically, the mining states of Western Australia and Queensland recorded a 6.6% and 6.5% drop in jobs, respectively, below the national average of 7.5%.

The Australian Institute of Geoscientists said jobless numbers had climbed in the March quarter, but fears the COVID-19 pandemic would have a major impact on employment had not materialised at this stage.

Unemployment amongst Australia's geoscientists increased to 10% at the end of the March 2020 quarter, compared to 7.3% at the end of the December quarter.

Underemployment amongst self-employed geoscientists increased from 13.1% to 18.1% for the same period.

"Widespread speculation that the coronavirus pandemic would have a rapid and dramatic impact on geoscientist employment across Australia, where more than 70% of geoscientists work in mineral and energy resource exploration, mining and production, isn't borne out by the latest survey results," AIG president Andrew Waltho said.

"The first quarter of each year is frequently marked by an upturn in unemployment, with exploration fieldwork in particular reduced following the summer holidays and northern Australian wet season.

"We have not to date seen anything like the dramatic downturn in employment associated with the global financial crisis in 2009."

The AIG said unemployment and underemployment among geoscientists increased in every state except Queensland, which was little-changed.

The greatest increases in unemployment were recorded in Victoria (11.1%) and South Australia (13.8%).

Close to 29% of respondents said they had been out of work for more than 12 months.

Waltho said the potential for more severe impacts on employment remained.

"The situation, however, has some way to run and AIG will now be looking to the June survey to demonstrate how Australia's minerals and energy exploration and mining industry is coping with the impacts of the pandemic," he said.

"The need to move to a new way of working is affecting everyone in Australia to some extent.

"Some of these new ways of working may well outlive the impacts of the pandemic, but ultimately geoscientists, particularly those working in exploration, need safe and effective access to land to deliver results. Returning to a safe and effective means of accessing land will be essential going forward."

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies has warned 500-600 exploration jobs are at "serious risk".

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