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CFMEU slams Rio Tinto’s warning on robots replacing Aussie workers.

The
CFMEU has struck back after Rio Tinto’s warned that Australian mining labour
forces could be replaced by robots.

Rio
Tinto CEO Sam Walsh has cautioned Australia against allowing
resource projects to shut because of local cost pressures, and warned that
Australian society and Australian workers had to ensure they didn’t price
themselves out of the market.

He said that the carbon and mining taxes were an issue, and that Rio Tinto is
banking on the repeal of both the mining and carbon taxes.

“It’s
awfully important Australia maintains its competitiveness,” Walsh said.

He
said Rio Tinto’s push into the “robotisation” of mining was partly due to the
massive wages the company has been forced to pay in Australia.

Walsh first introduced automated workshops when he headed Nissan’s manufacturing
operations, and said that was done because Australians didn’t want to do the
hard, dirty work.

“Some
people have expressed concern about automation but quite frankly it’s getting
harder and harder to attract young people to remote areas,” he said.

“There
are jobs for those who want them but it will be supplemented by automated
trucks and trains and drills and so on.

“There
are trade-offs between automation and having operators do things. If you are not
careful it will reach the stage where people price themselves out of the
market.

“The
mere fact that we are automating trucks and trains in the Pilbara is economic.
There was a business case for it. That’s indicating there is an issue.”

He
said automated equipment was creeping into the coal industry as well and the
Pilbara was a testing ground for automated trucks.

“It’s
on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

“In the Pilbara, it was driven by the fact
that it was very hard to get labour and I have not heard anyone complaining
about the program we set up.”

CFMEU
national vice president Andrew Vickers lashed out at the suggestion that
robotics would be implemented as a way of saving on labour costs in the mining
industry, and said that comparisons of Australian wages to wages in other
countries were stupid and unreasonable.

“All
that’s happening is a very cheap, nasty, and irrelevant comparison between what
those same companies are paying in far less developed countries compared to
Australia, it is totally unreasonable,” he told Australian Mining.

“How
does Sam Walsh’s pay compare with the miners in a Rio Tinto mine in Mongolia
for example, or any Rio Tinto mine in Australia?

“It’s
stupid to make those comparisons, and it’s unreasonable, and it borders on
immoral.”

Vickers
said mining companies like Rio Tinto that complain about wages do not give
respect to the conditions workers face in the industry or the high costs of
living in Australia.

“Wages
are fair, in some circumstances they could be better, but they are certainly
reasonable given all of the conditions , and indeed the profitability of the
mining industry in Australia,”Vickers said.

“I
mean wages are not sending mining companies to the wall, never have and never
will.”

Vickers
accused Rio Tinto of having a bad reputation of ignoring its
workers needs, adding that robotics and automation would not provide them with theability to reduce work forces.

“Rio
is renowned globally as a company that despises the idea of having to
communicate with it’s employees, it would much prefer to do that in a robotic
sense without dealing with human beings,” he said.

“That’s
the nature of the company and I think that what they’re seeking to do both with
their trains in the Pilbara and their experiments and actual practices with
trucks and drills is all about just getting rid of workers because they’re a
nuisance to them.

“They
will need the same number of maintenance staff, there’s a question of whether
they may need more if the trials and the actual operations don’t quite work
out, if there’s more damage done to the equipment.”

Vickers
suggested that many jobs would still require humans to service and maintain
robotic equipment, possibly more staff than before, and that Rio Tinto would
certainly attempt to send those jobs offshore.

“You
can’t put a robot in to change the oil on a truck or to change the tires, you
can use GPS positioning, and someone playing with a joystick down in Perth, you
can move those trucks around, but what you can’t do is replace the actual hard
human labour on the ground doing the maintenance work,” he said.

“Of
course, if it could be done cheaply and efficiently, Rio Tinto would put those
trucks on a boat and take them to Thailand or Vietnam or Bangladesh and get
them serviced there but clearly that’s not an option, not at the present
time. 

“The
idea of taking maintenance work offshore is only available to them if they get
further assistance from the federal government in terms of 457 visas.”

Image:
BBC

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