In May Rio Tinto announced internally it would no longer support national FIFO as a sourcing strategy and since the pandemic more than 700 workers, or 70 per cent of its national FIFO workforce, have relocated to WA.

Both Woodside and FMG say 90 per cent of its workforce already resided in Western Australia.

Most of Woodside’s workers reside in Western Australia.Credit:Emma Young

A Woodside spokesman said a number of interstate employees had already taken up the opportunity to relocate to WA. The LNG giant is offering incentives such as costs relocation, temporary accommodation and an allowance for workers wanting to move to WA.

FMG chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said the company was actively working with interstate workers to provide them with the option to relocate to Perth including a relocation allowance.

However, Ms Gaines indicated exemptions were still needed and said the sector had demonstrated it could safely manage cross border travel during the pandemic and FMG was working with the WA government to ensure it continued to contribute to the economy.

Forterscue Metals CEO Elizabeth Gaines.Credit:AFR

“We believe a science-based approach to resources sector border exemptions is important for our people, for the community and the government and that this should drive decisions relating to the health implications as well as the national economic impact of COVID-19,” she said.

Over the next 18 months, FMG is expected to complete both its Eliwana mine and Iron Birge magnetite project while BHP is hoping start shipping ore from its US$3.6 billion South Flank mine and Rio Tinto expects its US$2.6 billion Koodaideri to begin operations in 2022.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Paul Everingham said the BHP announcement was formalising a position that BHP and other members had had for some time but with the ramp up of these projects his members would need to look east for skilled workers.

“It is a great announcement by BHP and warmly welcomed by industry…but I would say it doesn’t remove the need nor flexibly to be able to tap into other markets for much larger construction workforce requirements,” he said.

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“Those big four iron ore projects are fantastic for WA and will help keep the WA mining sector as the engine room of the economy, but if we want to keep them operating at optimum level and employing as many people as possible and producing ore and paying royalties and taxes then we are going to need some flexibility around travel arrangements.”

Hamish Hastie is WAtoday’s business reporter.

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