The CUB club

WITH resource projects in far-flung parts of Australia and the mining industry’s ongoing boom, demand for labour in the traditional blue collar trades is high – both onsite and in the cities. Consequently, there are salaries to match.

Staff Reporter

According to this year’s survey of salaries by recruitment company Hays, an auto electrician working on a mine in Western Australia (where the highest wages are to be had) earns between $100,000 and $120,000. A jumbo operator, again working in WA, can earn up to $180,000.

Even relatively unskilled jobs such as dump truck drivers bring in up to $100,000. There is one story doing the rounds of the guy who holds the pole for the surveyor to focus his theodolite being paid $130,000. He was lured away to another mine by an increased salary.

To put this into perspective though, an engineering manager or project manager can bring in up to $250,000 per annum.

It has been said that in the late 1990s, the best way to find a geologist was to hail a taxi on St Georges Terrace. Nowadays, instead of hauling passengers, they can be found on WA minesites hauling in up to $160,000.

Skilled or unskilled, if you’re onsite then life generally is good. It’s not the 1980s anymore and far fewer unskilled labourers and tradesmen are pouring their hard-earned into their beer glasses or 15-year-old Holdens, Fords and Valiants.

In 2006 they are typically pouring it into property, shares and more property. They still have their toys of course, but these days they consist of near-new Monaros or the classics, which can now cost up to three times that of their modern counterparts.

Big boys toys

Investments aside there are the boats, jet skis, motorcycles, plasma TVs and the attendant home theatre systems. Sales of high-end Bang & Olufsen audio visual products have reportedly been particularly strong as miners, from areas such as Kalgoorlie, seek to maximise the quality of their time between shifts.

They’ve been dubbed the Cashed Up Bogans but there’s much to be gained from being in the CUB club.

According to recreational equipment manufacturer Bombardier, the market for their products is enjoying “double-digit growth”

“The resources boom is having a positive effect [on sales]; however, its extent is not quantifiable other than to say that in WA, the region is seeing growth ahead of other states,” Bombardier Recreational Products spokeswoman Helen Feeney told Australia’s Mining Monthly. “The Queensland market is in line with last year.”

She said that while BRP’s Sea-Doo personal watercraft were very much luxury products, the profile of its customers was split between blue-collar and white-collar workers.

Luxury car sales are also experiencing strong growth.

“Growth in the resources sector always boosts growth in other areas,” Audi Australia’s general manager of public relations, Anna Burgdorf, told AMM. “It’s no secret that the WA mining industry is booming, the housing industry is booming, car sales are booming, and I think the entire industry is growing at an abnormally fast rate.

“We have other factors which [may have had] impact; one of them has been a change in ownership of the Audi Centre Perth. We’ve had some good new product come in, which also boosts, but you cannot underestimate the buoyancy of the market when it comes to growth in luxury cars.

“For example, in January 2005, we sold 17 cars in Perth. In January 2006, we sold 51. And in September 2005, we sold 26 – in September this year we sold 43.”

Looking at the spoils that come with being in the right trade at the right time, one might draw the conclusion that these jobs are overpaid. However, there is a lot of work around, and most of those doing it work a minimum of six long days a week.

Like any other market, there is a strong demand for services that are done well and efficiently, and in a market starved of qualified people, those few who are will be paid well.

There is far more work than qualified tradespeople, there is much more money in the game than there used to be, and those playing it have to be highly organised. Generally speaking, an appointment with a metropolitan tradesman will usually need to be booked several days, if not weeks, in advance. But when he finally arrives, it will be on time. And there’s a good chance it will be in a late model V8 Holden or Ford.

In fact, a Perth tradesman recently bought a new $60,000 Chrysler 300C to use as his work vehicle.

And who can blame them. So chances are that now, the vehicle that the tradesman drove to the residence of Mrs Leafy Suburb would have around the same price tag as the car in her garage. If not, he would have one (or three) vehicles of similar value in his garage on the outskirts of town, which would be jostling for space with a ski boat and assorted personal watercraft.

The effect of the mining boom, and the CUBs who are directly or indirectly benefiting from it, should not be underestimated. In early November, the WA median house price shot to $450,000, a 39% rise in the past year.

This includes blocks on the urban fringe, where distance from the CBD and the ocean are less important than a new four by two on a quarter acre block.

In Queensland, where the strength of the mining industry is second only to that of WA, the labour shortage is similarly desperate.

Graham Cuthbert, executive director of the Master Builders Association of Queensland, told Australia’s Mining Monthly it was not just the skilled trades that were migrating to the mining industry.

“It’s not just your trades, it’s the non-trades as well,” Cuthbert said. “It’s the unskilled people who might be labourers on a building site in the city, who now go and earn $100,000-120,000 sweeping the floors on a minesite in the remote areas.

“I understand the Western Australian Government was over here recently running a program to try and get Queenslanders to go and live and work in WA. But we’ve done the same thing.”

Cuthbert said there was a push by the Queensland Government last year to try to convince Sydneysiders to move north and into Queensland’s mining and construction industries.

“We are definitely experiencing a similar situation, [with] similar concerns,” he said.

Dreams realised

In markets where luxury goods such as plasma screens are in good supply, the effect has been strong competition from suppliers and competitively low prices. But in other markets where supply is extremely limited, such as classic Australian muscle cars, prices have gone through the stratosphere.

There’s no doubt that CUBs have had a significant here to read on.