Ravensthorpe, Hopetoun and Esperance tipped to suffer from job losses

The region is still reeling from its loss of more than 500 local jobs after First Quantum Minerals revealed its decision to mothball its Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation and Southern Ports – Port of Esperance opened voluntary redundancy expressions of interest to 133 workers.

The Canadian mining giant announced its operations would enter care and maintenance by September, with reports of about 450 staff affected by the change.

The announcement on Wednesday, August 9 sent shock waves through the region, according to Shire of Ravensthorpe chief executive officer Ian Fitzgerald. 

Mr Fitzgerald travelled to Esperance on Saturday to meet with West Australian National leader Mia Davies, Member for Roe Peter Rundle and Member for the Agricultural Region during their visit for the party’s annual state conference.

Ms Davies called on the Labor government look to projects that they could “fast-track” to bolster the region. 

She said getting started on “shovel-ready” projects, such as the Esperance Indoor Sports Centre upgrades and the South Regional TAFE expansion, would help soften the blow for communities by generating new employment opportunities.

She said there needed to be alternatives for the region to counter and absorb the blow of FQM’s recent decision. 

Mr Rundle said the government had their heads in the sand over the job losses. 

Raising the issue in Parliament this week, Mr Rundle sought assurance from the State Government that plans were in the pipeline to help transition the region from significant mining and port job cuts.

Mr Rundle said the Government needed to step up in this time of crisis and assure workers impacted by the “job shedding” that there would be support options available.

“The Nationals held our conference in Esperance on the weekend and I can assure you the events that have unfolded have left the community reeling,” he said.

“I was in Hopetoun yesterday, a community that will be hit hard by the job cuts,” he said

“The local primary school is facing the loss of up to 30 students, 150 householders have been told they have two months to vacate houses rented by First Quantum Minerals and other families that bought property in the town now face the prospect of unemployment.”

Premier Mark McGowan told Parliament staffing levels would remain unchanged at Hopetoun Primary School for the balance of 2017.

Mr Fitzgerald said that communities in the shire were resilient and would look to other industries to prop up the local economy.  

He said Hopetoun was one of the hardest hit with a number of employees residing in the small coastal community and the closure of Hamersley Drive that links to the Fizgerald River national Park. 

While Mr Fitzgerald didn’t know exactly when the mine would mothball its operations he said rumours had “made the rounds”. 

“Tourism has to be the big one. Access to the park will help,” he said. 

Mr Fitzgerald said local government would look to advertise the tourism potential of the region and highlighted an upcoming booklet on the region as a benefit. 

The news comes as another blow for port workers as First Quantum’s nickel made up a quarter of the organisation's trade. First Quantum makes up 25 per cent of the port’s in-house stevedored ship movements and about 500,000 tonnes of the port’s annual trade.

Southern Ports chief executive officer Nicolas Fertin said the suspension of it operations has promoted Southern Ports’ management team to work to quantify the impact this change in circumstances would have on the organisation and how it might be best managed.

“It was an unexpected announcement and I cannot shy away from saying we are facing difficult times ahead for us as an organisation,” Mr Fertin said. 

First Quantum’s business with Southern Ports includes importing 411,000 tonnes of sulphur in the past year, exporting almost 100,000 tonnes of nickel in containers and stevedoring for all trade. 

Southern Ports also revealed the miner leases a crane and other infrastructure such as sulphur sheds. First Quantum totalled 24 ship movements of last year, which represents about one quarter of all ships.

Mr Fertin said Southern Ports would work closely with staff and their representatives, including unions, to derive a way forward for their local operations.

“The infrastructure which has been used to facilitate FQM trade is sound and I would hope attractive for other customers, however it does take time to find and negotiate terms to facilitate a new trade,” Mr Fertin said.

“I have spoken to the FQM management and will continue to work with them to establish what this suspension means for Southern Ports as we expect it will be different to a complete shut-down of operations.

“This latest news comes in the middle of an expression of interest for voluntary redundancy process and we remain to responding to staff who have submitted expressions of interest by the end of this week and we will do so.”