New figures show mining companies trying to hire workers as never before, even as they talk of putting on hold or winding back projects.
Released as it emerged former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was planning to exempt from the super profits tax every mineral other than iron ore and coal, the figures show show the industry trying to hire a record 6200 workers in May, far more than at any time in the Howard government's mining boom.
The Bureau of Statistics survey was conducted in the third week of May, two weeks after Kevin Rudd unveiled the super profits tax and two weeks after opposition leader Tony Abbott said it would kill the industry "stone dead".
The Herald understands Mr Rudd was prepared to exempt from the tax every mineral except the big two in a bid to isolate the hostility to the mining giants, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata, and to shut down damaging attacks from smaller miners scattered across the country.
Sources said that offer no longer applied under Ms Gillard.
The heads of the the three biggest miners met in Canberra yesterday with the Treasurer Wayne Swan and The Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson.
While both sides were confident of reaching agreement ahead of Mr Rudd's replacement, the talks were deadlocked over the application of the tax to existing projects.
The ABS job vacancies survey is regarded as more reliable than the private surveys of job advertisements. It shows the number of mining jobs on offer jumped almost 20 per cent between February and May at a time when total vacancies slipped 2.5 per cent...
The May total is head and shoulders above anything ever reached during the previous mining boom when when vacancies only once exceeded 5000.
It is also out of proportion to the size of mining as an employer. Mining employs fewer than 200,000 Australians yet had 6200 jobs going vacant. Manufacturing, which employs almost one million Australians, had 11,200.
"The mining skill shortage never went away," said David Edwards, strategic manager of the labour hire firm Drake. "It's one of the few positive arguments you hear about slowing resources investment; there are bottlenecks." he said.
Emphasing the difficulty of attracting the right workers to less-attractive locations the figures show that it is twice as easy to land a job in Western Australia as in NSW. In May there were just 1.9 unemployed West Australians for each vacant job compared to 4 unemployed for each NSW vacancy.
Tasmania had worst market for job seekers with 8.3 unemployed locals for each vacant job, followed by Queensland with 7.7 unemployed per job.
Statistically the best place to look for work is the Northern Territory where according the ABS there are more vacancies than unemployed people to fill them, producing a ratio of 0.9 unemployed for each vacant job.
"Things are going to get worse for employers," said Mr Edwards. "Last year if you had a job you sat tight in it no matter what you thought of your employer. But this year, there's an element of payback. There are some indications about half of all workers are thinking about moving. Our own survey shows around 25 per cent are thinking of it seriously."
"For many employers this won't be a problem, they can easily find replacement workers, but for mining employers needing highly-skilled workers to fill critical roles in remote locations, it's a real problem."
Jobs to the North, Jobs to the West
Unemployed per vacancy
Northern Territory 0.9
Western Australia 1.9
South Australia 3.0
6354.0, 6202.0, May 2010
Published in today's SMH and Age
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