Griffin’s ‘nanny shift’

DRIVING FORCE: Shelley Harms is a member of the “nanny crew” which Griffin Coal is using to maintain production between shifts. photo: Chris Burns
DRIVING FORCE: Shelley Harms is a member of the “nanny crew” which Griffin Coal is using to maintain production between shifts. photo: Chris Burns

GRIFFIN miners affectionately call them the “nanny crew”. When full-time dig operators, truck and bulldozer drivers take their staggered crib (meal) breaks, the nanny crew takes over.

The part-time staff keeps the equipment going between 11.30am and 3.30pm in a productivity measure brokered between the mine operators and union representatives.

“They are not all nannies by any means, but the name has stuck,” said Griffin industrial relations general manager Chris Godfrey.

“Getting them trained up takes some time although we will start to see the gains.”

The measure is indicative of a trend in the resources sector that means mine owners must not only maximise productivity but also offer flexible arrangements to attract workers to the booming area.

The deal is less controversial than those operations pushing for foreign labour arrangements.

Labor senator Doug Cameron said a Senate inquiry into the use of foreign workers that he is chairing would seek the input of mining magnates Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest.

The need for flexibility is underlined as women become a prime recruiting opportunity for mining companies.

Research by accountancy group PwC found about 40,000 women were working in the resources sector, accounting for just 18 per cent of mining roles. This contrasts with women filling 45 per cent of roles in the overall Australian workforce.

“Central to reducing the sector’s skills shortage is the creation of a culture and conditions that will make female workers want to join and stay with resources companies,” the report said.

“To attract and retain talented women, the industry will need to provide facilities such as childcare and early education.”

The PwC report recommends the sector target women of high-school age for the resources industry because this is when subject selections and career decisions begin to be formed.

The Collie arrangement is a compromise. Lanco Infratech’s Griffin Coal mine wanted workers on 12½-hour shifts to allow for handovers that would keep the equipment running 24 hours a day.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union opposed the push because of worker fatigue.

The nanny crews were hired for daytime work but there are no nanny crews in the middle of the night, so the equipment lies idle for a short period.

“CFMEU mining and energy division secretary Gary Wood said the shift was good for Collie. “It provides an employment opportunity for those heading to retirement and those who want to pick the kids up from school,” he said,

WA Seniors Minister Robyn McSweeney said the state government welcomed the flexible arrangements.

“New measures companies are introducing to accommodate our more senior members of the community who want to stay in the workforce are welcome,” she said.

“Senior West Australians offer skills, wisdom and experience which can be very valuable to an organisation.”

Older nanny crew members still qualify for WA’s Seniors Card because the four hours/four days a week schedule meets the requirements. (Seniors are allowed to work up to 25 hours a week, averaged over 12 months, to qualify for the card.)

A similar arrangemen exists at Xstrata Copper’s Ernest Henry mine near Cloncurry in Queensland. It runs a school-hour-friendly shift, staffed by the “mummy crew” driving 200-tonne dump trucks.

At Griffin, 16 workers fill the nanny shift, when the weather is fine. Their casual status means they come to work and are paid only when weather conditions permit coal extraction.

Chris Godfrey hasn’t given up on pursuing a 12½-hour shift to make the coal mine into a truly 24-hour operation but “12-hour shifts are obviously near and dear to the CFMEU, he said.