Mining and the green economy

OceanaGold delegate Mark Anderson

E tū mining delegate Mark Anderson is facing a job hiatus of up to 15 months from his job at OceanaGold, which mines gold beneath the Coromandel town of Waihi. OceanaGold has plans to expand but until that work begins, work will be suspended at the surface workshop onsite and at the mill, where Mark works.

It’s a challenging time for Mark and his co-workers, but he says this isn’t unusual in the mining industry.
“When I started 12 years ago, the life of the mine here was 18 months, and for a long, long time we worked under that sword of 18 months to two years of mine life. That’s very normal,” he says.

Fortunately, the hiatus is temporary, and Mark says OceanaGold’s expansion plans mean relatively secure work for local miners in the years ahead.

“It’ll be a year to 15 months and then we’re coming back, and then I’ll hopefully work there until I retire,” Mark says.

Originally from the US, Mark moved with his Kiwi partner from Holland to New Zealand, eventually finding work at OceanaGold. Within a year he was elected as the delegate.

“It’s pretty important. We serve a definite role, but I think since I’ve been the delegate, that’s expanded, with guys coming to us with questions or concerns a lot more, whereas before, they’d go to HR and not through the delegate, who was just there for bargaining. So I’ve tried to put more of a personal role into it, you know, having more of a feel for issues affecting our members.”

Mark is the convenor of the mining sub-industry in E tū’s Engineering, Infrastructure and Extractives Industry Council and says meeting up with the Council delegates is a highlight of his role.

“They understand you’re dealing with a mixed bag of people. But you do your best for every member, because they need to know the union will be there for them, so you make sure you give the best possible support that you can,” he says.

The decision to grant OceanaGold the consent to purchase land for expansion was controversial and mining is a frequent target of protest. Mark defends the industry, pointing out gold is part of the green technology revolution.

“Gold is important for technology, it’s used for a lot of things. Waihi, in fact, produces more silver than gold, and silver is valuable for making solar panels. So the question I ask is, how do you power a green economy without mining?

“How will you get the nickel and lithium for EV batteries, the tungsten that goes into wind turbines, how do you get that out of the ground, how do you get that manufactured? All those things that will drive green technology still have to be mined and preferably under the best environmental standards, which is what we use here in NZ.”

“You have a mine in the Congo with 35,000 slaves getting cobalt out of the ground. It goes into the market and into electric vehicles for people who think they’re creating a better world. But is it OK to push it out to other places so people here can say, ‘we don’t support mining’?”

He says a secure future for the mine is also good news for the community. “You take those people out of those communities, you hurt them in more ways than just money. Small towns depend on people running stuff.”