Minings future in hands of intelligent machines

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018 8:23PM

Rio Tinto celebrates first driverless train journey

Rio Tinto celebrates first driverless train journey

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It has taken Rio Tinto 10 years and $US940 million to automate its Pilbara rail network.

In his five months as a top lobbyist for the WA resources sector, nothing has impressed Paul Everingham more than Rio Tinto’s intelligent mine concept.

Its unprecedented amount of integrated automation made the Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive reassess completely how he viewed the future of mining.

Mr Everingham told the Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s annual WA resources overview yesterday that automation would affect up to half the State’s 120,000-strong mining and energy workforce in the next decade.

He said the resources sector owed it to future generations to have an open and frank discussion about the training and redeployment needed for workers affected by automation.

EY mining and metals leader Scott Grimley said that as WA was a high-cost jurisdiction because of labour and regulations it was critical to focus on improving productivity and margins.

Apart from automation, one way miners are cutting costs is by casualisation, where contract workers employed by labour-hire firms are used instead of directly-employed staff members.

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Mr Everingham said casualisation was not widespread and the flip side was that some companies, such as Fortescue Metals Group, were moving away from the practice.

The amount of design work and fabrication for resources projects sent to lower-wage countries is another cost-cutting measure not well received by some in the community.

Mr Everingham said if the mega projects being talked about now, such as Woodside’s Scarborough and Browse LNG developments, went ahead there would not be enough workers in WA.

He said the next wave of investment would address concerns about local content and jobs over the next five years.

The former WA Liberal Party boss, however, said he did not expect the labour market to become as tight as it did 10 years ago.

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