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Australian Mining 2014: Salaries in focus

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The mining boom that drove high wages and saw an explosion in resources employment has ground to a halt, and the shockwave of this has been felt right throughout the industry.

Both the level of employment and salaries has fallen as the industry seeks to reign in massive costs and curb spending habits developed at the height of the boom.

So it is no surprise that from June to August this year alone we saw close to 5000 jobs go from the mining industry, with the situation painted as even bleaker to come by the ANZ which predicted that 75 000 mining related jobs will be at risk as the sector enter 'phase three' of the mining.

The ANZ-led research stated that as billions of dollars' worth of investment in the sector tapers off and construction gives way to operation, resource-related roles around the country face a heavy cull.

Senior economist at ANZ, Justin Fabo, said to expect between 50 and 75 thousand job losses as mining employment crashes to three per cent of the gross domestic product from highs of eight per cent.

Fabo warned a softening of commodity prices could make the news worse for those working in and servicing the sector.

"Weaker than expected commodity prices would tilt the risks to more job losses as mining firms seek to cut costs,'' Fabo said.

"So we think the unemployment rate will be in spitting distance of 6 per cent over the next 12 months, and for improvement after that to be gradual.''

However for the mining industry itself, the numbers are much grimmer.

Doubling down

According to new research by The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) double digit unemployment is on the cards for mining industry professionals.

It added that these figures will also "remain stubbornly high".

AusIMM president Geoff Sharrock said the research highlights the shear depth of the downturn in mining, and predicted levels of disruption and uncertainty head.

In its annual Professional Employment Survey, carried out across its 14 000 member, AusIMM found that the unemployment rate amongst Australian minerals professionals sits at around 12.2 per cent, double that of the national average of 6.1 per cent in July this year.

With exploration continuing to slide, and dropping to seven year lows, it is no surprise that geology professionals have been the hardest hit sector, with massive flow-on effects.

Until exploration picks back up, drilling companies and other firms servicing the mining industry are continuing to feel the pinch as work dries up.

Chief of Western Australia's Chamber of Minerals and Energy, Reg Howard-Smith, has warned not to expect an improvement in the sector any time soon.

"I sincerely hope I'm wrong in saying that, but I suspect we might have a little bit further to go in a downward trend," he said.

Making more from less

This downtrend has seen companies trying to get more out of their already reduced workforces.

The AusIMM report stated that more "minerals professionals commonly report strong pressures to work more hours for the same pay (17.5 per cent); to accept lower pay or conditions for the same job (16.6 per cent); and to accept reduced working hours (8.4 per cent).

Sharrock stated that "sustained levels of unemployment are being felt across all minerals professional disciplines and all Australian states and territories".

"The impacts of cost-cutting in the minerals sector have been particularly broad, deep and sustained; there are minerals professional with many years' experience who are struggling to find work," he said.

The situation is even more negative for graduates, with slightly less than half of AusIMM's student members confident they will find work in the industry when they graduate.

The Hunter Valley, with its total focus on coal, has been one of the hardest hit regions.

The Singleton Chamber of Commerce said mass layoffs in Hunter Valley's mining sector have left the region reeling, with business conditions at an all-time low.

"I've never seen it this bad and I talk to people that are actually retired and they've never seen it this bad either," Singleton Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Ryan Fitzpatrick said.

AusIMM CEO Michael Catchpole explained the current trend for this job cutting action.

"Companies have faced strong pressures to return value to shareholders, focus on productivity, and respond to changing demand and reduced prices for commodities," Catchpole said.

He added that whilst the industry understands the need for change in the sector "many highly-skilled minerals professionals are now unemployed and the sector risks losing their skills; as a result we will see long-term adverse impacts on the continued development of Australia's minerals sector".

This depressed situation for the sector has even driven workers overseas, however it may be the draw of continued relatively high wages that bring workers back to Australia.

A numbers game

In line with the falling of commodity prices and job cuts, wages themselves have also fallen, but still remain strong globally.

According to SEEK "across Australia as a whole the average mining salary has declined ten per cent to $120 793 in the 12 months to June", however it noted that this was still the highest average wage in the country.

Victoria was hit the hardest, with the average wage falling 18 per cent, while South Australia recorded an 11 per cent fall, Western Australia and New South Wales both saw the 10 per cent drop, and Queensland fared the best out of all the nation's regions, only slumping 8 per cent.

Even with this large drop "mining remains the strongest contributor to economic growth in Australia at 1.1 per cent.

In regards to actual positions and regions themselves, there are still shortages when it comes to professionals in the West Australian iron ore space, particularly process engineers and crusher operators, according to the latest Hays Salary Guide.

Queensland's hard rock industry has been recovering since a disastrous 2013, with a slowly growing demand for mining and maintenance engineers as well as surveyors.

Tradies such as fitters and mobile and process plant operators with coal experience are also in need in the Bowen Basin.

However when it comes to NSW and South Australia, both states are looking a little more stressed.

Yet "in terms of salaries we are seeing a broadly stable outlook as the very best talent is still commanding a premium; however reductions may occur for the blue collar workforce and middle management candidates as a result of the drive to reduce FIFO roles in all regions," Hays said.

It is difficult to understand the state of Australian mining wages in isolation.

In the following tables Australian Mining has provided information from the latest Hays Salary Survey, as well as the CostMine 2014 Survey Results – Canadian Mine Salaries, Wages, and Benefits, to give you an idea of what is average, and how it compares. (All figures in AUD thousands)

Role Australia – Coal Australia – Hard Rock Canada – Coal Canada- Hard Rock Mine Manager 213 220 194 161 Mill Superintendent 134 112 142 88 Mine Engineer 118 118.5 113 94 Chief Geologist 181 175 110 85 Environmental Superintendent 141 104 101 93

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