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Is It Time to Rethink Work Ethic in the Mining Industry?

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This time around on the Full Production podcast, I was fortunate enough to snag the mayor of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, John Bowler, for a chat. John is an accomplished politician who got his start in journalism and has spent his entire life in Kalgoorlie — even living in the same house he grew up in.

One of the things he constantly has on his mind, he tells me, is the disintegration of the family unit in towns like his. He says he has to sign way too many divorce papers, and that mental health issues and the breakups of families have become endemic.

Though John is explicitly pro-mining, he does worry about the health of families in the industry. He called fly-in fly-out the “cancer of the bush”, no understatement for how he feels about the unique practice. In John’s view, with most miner’s partners working and kids in school all day, there just isn’t enough room for them to spend a decent amount of time with their family. By the time they come home from their stint out working, they’re exhausted. It leads to absentee parents and it’s no wonder there’s been such a strain on families.

“We need to get balance back on hours of work, on the roster structures, so that people have a life while they’re working.”

That was John’s unequivocal assessment of the mining industry at the moment. Besides fly-in fly-out, he was describing an endemic need for miners to work incredibly long shifts, while those in office positions tend to have 9-to-5 schedules. It’s no wonder that we’re having a hard time recruiting new workers — they see the conditions and, especially for the new generation that is often more concerned about the experience than money — the rough conditions simply aren’t worth the salary.

I would agree. I think that one of our biggest strengths in the mining industry is our incredible work ethic. We’re the backbone of Australia and have helped the country achieve some incredible things. None of that could have been done without sacrifice and hard work.

But I still have to wonder sometimes if we’re going to burn out soon. Miner satisfaction is at an all-time low, and I’m not surprised. Too many people feel like they’re wasting precious years of their lives — and for what? A good paycheck? There’s plenty of other industries offering that these days.

I try to think about the long-term for our industry. If we want to thrive, not just squeak by, we’re going to need to think about how we’re treating our workers. Sure, lowering wages might be nice for a business owner. But are they thinking about how it’s affecting the workers and their families?

We just can’t afford to be complacent anymore.

Listen to my entire conversation with John here.