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Worker Story: Life on a Shutdown in South-East Asia

Harry Morton

Mining news in 2019 has been filled with examples of mining gone wrong in Asian countries. The Meghayala Indian mine collapse back in December 2018, or more recently the Sulawesi collapse in Indonesia that killed over fifty workers. These incidents fill our minds with images of poor working conditions and set-ups that would give be anyones OH&S nightmare.

Adrian Ford, a Queensland based Boilermaker & Welder, wasn’t sure what to expect when he found himself on a plane from Australia to Laos for a ten-day Shutdown. Here’s how he found himself working in a country that shares six borders and is still riddled with explosives from the Vietnam War.

Adrian originally trained as a Welder in the UK, growing up on the border of England and Wales. In September 1998, he travelled to Australia for a holiday that turned permanent. Working in Victoria for the first few years, he then made his way up to the Sunshine Coast and has been based there, working in Brisbane, ever since.

In that time he’s worked various FIFO jobs.

“I did Mt Isa for about 9 months, did a job at Dalby one of the coal plants out there, worked on Weipa for a little while as well. Since then I’ve found that working as a contractor, I can earn more money in Brisbane than I can on fly in, fly out.”

Adrian discussed how after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) it became far more difficult to find work.

“I left Mt Isa as the GFC hit. I left and 2 weeks later the whole industry went flat. I ended up working the Sunny Coast where ever I could and I got into contracting from there…too many people wanted work, too many people were willing to take lower wages just to get their foot in the door.”

Although in his eyes not everyone was hit so hard by the fall.

“The guys who were well established, had the contacts, I’d say it’s still lucrative business for them. But for the guys who weren’t well connected, I sort of got into it towards the tail end, I didn’t have that big backup of mates I could ring or all the rest of it.”

One day, Adrian received a voice message from a contact of his saying, ‘Job in Laos, call this number.’

He explains the story from there: “I actually missed out because I was busy working and didn’t get the message on my phone until the end of the day. So I wasn’t going to go. Then one of the other guys couldn’t get his passport sorted out in time…and that was it, I got the phone call, “we’re organising a VISA, it’s all happening”. Literally a week or two later I was on the plane.”

Adrian had to catch three flights and a bus to arrive on site in Laos. Bordered by Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, Laos is fully landlocked and has a population of nearly seven million.

“They put us in a bus about four hours up this mountain hill. It was all gravel track full of potholes and rocks, on the side of cliffs, nobody’s got any local currency so you can’t buy anything…(It was) hot, sticky, sweaty.”

He said, “The actual camp was built into rock that had been staged for mining. Where all the benches were they had the different levels of accommodation. It was a good ten minute walk from your room down the benches to the mess hall at the bottom.”

One of the crazier parts of the experience came during the induction after being told there were explosive mines still scattered around from the Vietnam War.

“They said there could be mines up in the hills…it was an induction that said if you found a mine you’ve got to stand clear. They have a bomb disposal team that would come in and sort out the bomb.”

He recalled other comparisons of working in the Laos jungle versus regional Australia.

“You started with the mess hall that had expat food which was regular westerner food, the local Laos food, then they had other sections to cater for other people from different parts of the world…They gave us all homemade crow-bars for the jobs, one of the guys went to get a welding visor and they only had a second hand one that was shared between everyone.”

Overall, Adrian admits the health & safety was up to Australian standards.

“It wasn’t as bad as you would think it was. If you took all the local workers out & put Aussies in there you wouldn’t notice a huge difference. It was pretty much up to Australian standards on most things.”

He described the locals as very hardworking, especially compared to what he’d experienced on a previous overseas job in the Solomon Islands.

Adrian’s insight has really opened up our understanding of what working Shutdowns outside of Australia can be like. He has just recently registered with MyPass and hopes to use the platform to find more work opportunities moving forward.

If you or someone you know has their own unique experience of working in the resources industry, please reach out to our team as we’d love to hear from you.



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