The Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Bill 2016 was introduced in the Queensland Parliament on 8 November 2016. It aims to promote the employment of workers from regional communities situated close to large resource projects and in turn increase employment rates and cash flow in those communities. The Bill aims to achieve this by requiring large resource projects to source some of the workforce from nearby regional communities.

Overview

  • “A large resource project” (LRP) is one that requires an Environment Impact Statement.
  • The restriction will apply if there is a “nearby regional community”, that is a locality having a population of more than 200 people within 100km of the project.
  • “A FIFO worker” is a worker who travels to work by any means from a place that is not a nearby regional community.
  • The Bill does not propose a specific maximum limit for the FIFO workforce.
  • The owner of the LRP will be required to prepare a Social Impact Assessment as part of the Environment Impact Statement, addressing workforce management, housing and accommodation, and health and community management, as well as making a commitment to significantly lower the proportion of FIFO workers on the project.
  • The restriction will generally only apply to the operational phase of the project but may be extended to the construction phase in some instances.

Employment Issues

While the purpose of the Bill in improving the economy of regional communities is commendable, it raises some issues for LRP employers, including:

  • Hiring and recruitment policies;
  • Fatigue management; and
  • Redeployment policies.

The Bill proposes to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 to prohibit LRP employers from discriminating against a job applicant or worker on the basis that he or she either is a resident of a nearby regional community or becomes a resident of a nearby regional community. LRP employers should consider whether any of their current hiring policies inadvertently fall foul of this provision.

Fatigue management is not a new issue within the resources sector. However, the Bill may see an increase in the number of workers who travel up to 100km, probably by private vehicle, before and after each shift rather than at the beginning and end of a rostered swing. This increases the risk of workers driving while fatigued. In response to that increased risk, employers should:

  • Provide workers with fatigue management training that addresses fatigue warning signs, risks associated with driving while fatigued and measures that can be taken to alleviate fatigue;
  • Reiterate fatigue management training regularly by including it as a topic in toolbox talks or other communications with workers;
  • Ensure workers are offered opportunities and facilities to rest between the end of a shift and the journey home;
  • Consider changing the way shifts are structured; and
  • Consider providing transport between the nearby regional community and the worksite.

Most resource sector employers are conscious of the project based nature of the work and make a genuine attempt to re-deploy workers to new projects at the completion of a project. The Bill is likely to make re-deployment more challenging and employers may need to consider offering workers re-employment assistance at the end of a project where re-deployment is not possible.

The Bill has not yet been enacted and may yet undergo amendment before enactment.