“I think they love that we all had customer service skills, we use our personal skills every day so for us to be able to jump in the front line and deal with large volumes of people it comes second nature to us.
“For BHP they looked for airport workers because they knew we could handle it.”
“We went from high heels to high-vis in a day.”
Sarah-Rose Sharp, ex-Virgin flight attendant
BHP’s March announcement that it would expand its workforce for six months was a small glimmer of hope at a time when travel bans and tightening social distancing regulations were shutting down whole sectors such as aviation and hospitality.
So far the iron ore giant has taken on 1100 extra workers, including trade assistants, boilermakers, machine operators, drivers and cleaners.
The lion’s shares of the roles have gone to Queensland and WA with 490 and 450 hires respectively.
In addition to the traditional mining roles, 45 former flight attendants were recruited to run the company’s COVID-19 screening processes at airports.
The number is only a drop in the ocean compared to the almost 35,000 job losses that came from the two major airlines alone, but BHP said it was proud to do what it could.
“We are proud that we’ve been able to work closely with our labour hire partners and contracts and services providers to welcome new recruits from Qantas and Virgin to help us with the additional health screening and social distancing protocols that need to be managed,” BHP’s group procurement officer Sundeep Singh said.
“These recruits are able to engage in meaningful work by learning new skills while also ensuring our workforce remain fit, healthy and diligent during this difficult time.”
So far, Chinese demand for WA iron ore remains strong and COVID-19 screening has become essential to ensuring WA’s mining sector can continue to meet the demand.
During the screening, nurses perform temperature checks and workers are asked questions about their health and previous travel to determine whether they are at risk of spreading the virus.
The industry pulled out all the stops over March and April to prove to the WA government it could continue operating safely and in addition to screening, it took other drastic steps including extending rosters and moving east coast FIFO workers and their families to the west.
Meaghan Wise is thankful the new roles popped up when they did.
She had worn the Qantas uniform for 15 years until March, when the airline stood down some 25,000 staff.
She said both aviation and mining are very regulation-focused, so the transfer of skills was easy.
“We come from policy and procedure based environments so a lot of that was able to fit with us,” she said.
“It is all about safety, security and the wellbeing of your people, and because it is a transfer of skills we picked it up pretty easily.
“Some days we push through 900 to 1000 people and are having to use our time management skills, adaptability and flexibility.”
Warren Lock, a Virgin flight attendant of nearly eight years, said as work dried up the airlines supported their staff to hit the job market, with Virgin even creating a new team with the express purpose of finding jobs for out-of-work staff.
He said the BHP roles were in hot demand.
“There was limited flying from the company as well but it was sporadic. They gave us the choice to either do that or fully stood down,” he said.
“It was an easy decision to take this role once we knew we had support from the company.
“They were inundated with all these flight attendants, so we were lucky to get this position.”
Hamish Hastie is WAtoday’s business reporter.