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Poor, unclean accommodation leads to scabies outbreak among mining contractors

Nicholas McCallum

MEDIA RELEASE: Friday 1 November, 2019

A scabies outbreak among contractors at Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill mine demonstrates why the practice of rotating FIFO workers through different rooms needs to end, says the Electrical Trades Union. 

Some 17 workers at the Western Australian site have had cases of the skin infestation confirmed in the past week, with those numbers likely to rise. 

The cases are confined entirely to the mine’s contractor workforce, who are put into different rooms each time they return to site, in a practice known as moteling. ETU organisers report numerous complaints from contractors whose rooms haven’t been cleaned for up to three weeks. Permanent Roy Hill employees, who are offered more permanent accommodation, have not contracted scabies.

ETU WA Branch Secretary, Peter Carter said the practice is nothing but a cost-cutting measure and this latest outbreak should bring the end of moteling in the state.

“The standards at Roy HIll are totally inadequate,” says Carter. “These blokes’ rooms aren’t cleaned often enough for a climate that regularly has days above 40 degrees. 

“The most common instances of scabies in developed countries are amongst homeless populations. It’s an indictment of Roy Hill to even have a sniff of a scabies infestation at their camp. It’s an indictment of moteling.

“This model of ‘cheapest is best’, flagrantly used at these remote sites by corporate Australia, doesn’t work. The welfare of workers is ignored just to save a few bucks. These are multi-billion dollar projects — they shouldn’t be scrimping and saving on basic worker welfare.”

The ETU, AMWU and CFMEU have long condemned moteling, and successfully campaigned to have a FIFO mental health code of conduct introduced to Western Australia. 

Last month, in the first agreement to include conditions from the new FIFO code, the ETU, AMWU and multinational Perdaman announced there would be no moteling at Perdaman’s new Pilbara fertiliser plant. 

“Moteling exacerbates poor mental health for workers who are already away from home for long stretches, in isolated areas, and working 10 or 12 hour days. It offers no security, no sense of ownership or personal safety, and no feeling of being at home for blokes who spend three out of every four weeks living on-site. 

“Moteling needs to stop. Employers must offer single room accommodation with a sense of safety, security, and continuity for these workers immediately.”

Media enquiries: ETU National Communications Coordinator – Zoe Power

0419 499 886, zoep@etuaustralia.org.au


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