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Mining workers cling to FIFO lifestyle as sector picks up

Business is strong for companies servicing WA’s mining industry, but CPC Engineering is struggling to get workers who want to live away from Perth.

CPC chief executive Glen Weir said clients increasingly favoured work performed in mining areas, but potential employees did not.

“Their job is safer if they live in Kalgoorlie than if they live in Perth and do a FIFO,” he said.

CPC was based in Kambalda when Mr Weir took the helm 15 years ago.

Since then workshops have been added in Port Hedland, Kalgoorlie, Ravensthorpe and Esperance, as well as an engineering office in Perth.

Mr Weir said many people had left the industry since 2014 and he had to rely on overseas workers and apprenticeships to attract staff to the regional workshops.

CPC has more than 300 workers, about 30 of them apprentices.

“When the car manufacturers shut down in Adelaide and Geelong … we picked up one person who wanted to relocate to Kalgoorlie,” he said.

“That’s how difficult it is.”

Glen WeirGlen Weir
Camera IconGlen Weir

Now, unlike the last WA resources boom, the east coast construction sector is strong, reducing the flow of workers across the Nullarbor.

Mr Weir said wages on offer were good but potential workers preferred a city lifestyle, and he did not expect that to change.

He said it was now harder to recruit overseas workers.

The time to clear a worker through the regional migration scheme had blown out from three months to up to two years.

Mr Weir said his other avenue to import foreign labour had been the 457 visas, but its replacement — the 482 visa — was less flexible.

CPC mainly supports mid-tier mining companies with engineering done in Perth and maintenance in its regional workshops.

Mr Weir said CPC was small enough to match the nimble approach of those clients, while the bigger miners required additional work.

He said CPC had just finished studies for First Quantum Minerals Cobre copper mine in Panama and Syrah Resources graphite mine in Mozambique.

Many of his clients were finding it difficult raising money in Australia and were turning to overseas investors.

Mr Weir, who started his career as an electrical engineer with Western Mining, said the gold sector was very strong, iron ore was solid, and there was renewed interest in nickel.

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