Mining is up to the COVID-19 challenge

THE response by the mining industry, government, and unions to the looming threat hanging over the world in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic is encouraging and shows mine site health is regarded as integral part of safety.
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At a mine site level, Glencore was quick off the mark at its Hail Creek open cut coal mine in Queensland in quarantining and testing two mine workers who were suspected of having the virus.

As it turned out, the workers were clear. Nevertheless, the company proved its mettle by being quick off the mark to protect other mine workers from any harm.

This is the sort of vigilance that will be needed in the coming months at all work sites and at a government and industry level if the pandemic is to be contained and the disruptions to both lives and mine operations and kept to a minimum.  

Australia's newly-appointed resources minister Keith Pitt has praised the resources sector for its "show of strength" in the face of COVID-19, as leaders from the sector held a roundtable in Canberra to discuss the ongoing impacts of the global health pandemic on their supply chains.

The roundtable coincided with the release of a stimulus package by the federal government designed to safeguard the economy, as COVID-19 takes its toll on global markets.

At a state level, businesses in Queensland can apply for loans of up to $250,000 and stop making payroll tax payments for six-months under new measures by the government in response to COVID-19.

The news has been welcomed by the Queensland resources sector.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the payroll tax deferral would benefit mining companies and the sector's 14,400 suppliers, who together employ more than 372,000 Queenslanders or one in seven jobs.

Macfarlane said mining companies paid a combined $6.1 billion - or almost $120 million every week - in wages last financial year, and they spent more than $22 billion with small-to-medium business suppliers.

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable said both health and safety were the top priorities of Australia's minerals sector and the industry was taking a range of measures to protect its workforce, families and communities from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The MCA's COVID-19 Working Group, which includes senior member company representatives and state associations, met this week to discuss how the industry could work together to support the communities in which it operates and share information to keep mine sites safe and producing.

Constable said the minerals industry had a special responsibility to ensure vulnerable people in remote and regional communities were protected from the spread of COVID-19 as part of its contribution to health and wellbeing.

The challenges outlined by Working Group members included workforce movement restrictions, pressure on infrastructure such as ports, rail networks and community health facilities and medium-term equipment and consumables supply risks.

Construction Mining and Energy Union president Tony Maher said Australian mine workers should be given some assurances about any disruption to work and income as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

"The Australian mining industry has been an economic success story and the workers that comprise the industry have been central to this success," Maher said.

"The big mining companies have done well in recent years and it is now time for those companies to help cushion the blow of COVID-19 impacts on mine workers."

Hogsback agrees the mining industry has shown it can confront major challenges such as safety by coming together and formulating strategic responses that benefit both the workforce and the ongoing viability of the industry.