Driverless trucks and trains in Australian mines are threatening jobs, a new report by the University of Queensland has found.
Remote-controlled technology and machines that work on their own promise greater efficiency and fewer accidents for mining companies.
But the advance of automation may lead to staff cuts in an already contracting workforce.
This week the Queensland Resources Council estimated that 8000 coal workers have lost their jobs in the past year.
"As with all new technologies, there will be winners and losers," says Professor David Brereton, a researcher at UQ's Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining.
“There will be jobs that disappear. There will be new jobs, but there won't be as many.”
The UQ research suggests an open cut iron mine could cut staff by up to 40 per cent by introducing a fleet of autonomous “smart trucks”.
Last year, Rio Tinto announced a $483 million plan to introduce driverless trains in Western Australia's Pilbara region. The year before the company bought 150 driverless trucks.
BHP Billiton, which employs 10,000 Queenslanders, recently opened a remote operations centre in Perth.
Professor Brereton said technological change was inevitable but job losses would hit Indigenous Australians hard.
He said the mining industry was the country's biggest employer of Indigenous people, and more than half of those workers were truck drivers.
"That pathway into the mining industry will get narrower and eventually close off," Professor Brereton said.
The chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council, Michael Roche, said scholarships and other industry initiatives gave Indigenous people the chance to skill up for the new jobs automation would create.
“The need to remain globally competitive will drive automation as a means of increasing productivity on our mine sites,” he said.
“While this might mean fewer entry level positions, it also means that we will need more people in those highly technical and well paid occupations.”
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