The Mine With No Beer

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(9 votes)

In a move sure to upset those with a “work hard, drink hard” mindset, Rio Tinto have announced plans to call last drinks at its Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia. In a radical sidestep away from the history of mining which has been inextricably linked with that of a heavy drinking culture, the big miner has decided that its workforce can no longer relax after a hard shift in the wet mess.

In the 1980s we turned on our TV sets to see miners slaking their hard earned thirsts with a big cold beer and thought it was only natural that hardworking miners enjoy a tipple once their work day was done. Some would argue it is only right and proper that those who undertake such dangerous and labour intensive work as mining be allowed to imbibe once they’ve made it through another difficult day on site.

Some industry experts claim Rio Tinto’s decision is a sign of the times. The transition the mining sector has gone through in recent years means that there is less need for mining operators to keep workers happy so therefore less need to supply perks such as wet messes. However, other industry pundits are suggesting Rio Tinto’s decision is just the latest example of the overregulation of the industry at the hands of occupational health and safety processes allowed to run riot.

In an already heavily safety-regulated industry, the taking away of privileges such as the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, may put more than a few people’s noses out of joint. Indeed, the provision of wet messes by mining operators has come under fire in the past with calls in the 1980s and 1990s by safety-conscious hardliners to limit miners to a two-beer, per man per day maximum.

However, despite all the brouhaha it appears the Australian mining industry does not have a drinking problem. Indeed, according to the Australian Mine Safety Journal (AMSJ): “recent Australian research indicated that only a very small proportion of the workforce (including mining sector employees) have attended work under the influence of alcohol (5.6%).” However, the research also shows that a more than representative proportion of mining and construction employees (15.7%) drink to intoxication away from the workplace as compared to the rest of the Australian population (8.1%).

So seeing as the Australian mining sector is quite good at regulating its employees’ use and abuse of alcohol through such means as pre-shift breath tests, the recent decision by Rio Tinto seems less motivated by OH&S concerns and more inspired by economic realities.

As mining employees become increasingly concerned over the longevity of their jobs in the wake of the global slowdown, they also become more likely to accept such decisions made by their employers without question.

But what might such moves result in, besides the binning of the right to have a tinnie with one’s mates at the end of shift? What Rio’s decision could spell is the doom of mine sites offering supportive social environments in which FIFO miners can find relaxation and a listening ear so that they feel a little more at ease in their home away from home.

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Is the mining boom in Australia over?

Is the mining boom in Australia over?

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