As boom fades, Australia miners put brakes on gravy train

Mining

Suddenly strapped for cash and forced to penny pinch as Australia's decade-long mining boom fades, resources companies are sending a new message to staff: The gravy train is over.

Gone are free fruit baskets, weekly barbecues and the Australian "smoko", or unscheduled work breaks, at some sites.

Frantic demand from China for commodities over the last decade shielded Australia from the global downturn and prompted $400 billion in investment. Desperate to retain staff, six-figure salaries and elaborate extras for everyone from truck drivers to kitchen help became commonplace.

Private suites with daily linen changes and cable television replaced pre-boom bunk beds and gang showers.

"I loved my time working in the nickel mine," said Eloise Martin, who quit a job as a florist to work as a geologist's assistant just long enough to put together a down payment on a house.

"In my off hours at the mine, I learned French, took computer classes and became an expert in four-wheel drives, all paid for."

But with the boom past its peak, companies are cutting out many perks, a move they say is needed to offset lower returns and the high cost of doing business in Australia.

Fortescue Metals Group, an iron ore miner whose stock split 10-for 1 in 2007 and made a multi-billionaire out of its founder, has scrapped weekly staff barbecues. Gone too, is free coffee and ketchup from the canteens, according to a staff memo.

In the past week, a contracting company overseeing work on Chevron's $52 billion Gorgon gas project, even banned sitting during working hours in a bid to keep productivity up.

The contractor's leaked memo, published by the Australian Financial Review, was criticised by Australia's Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, a former union official.

"Presumably the person who typed up that communication has got be sitting down when they said it," Shorten said.

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