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dying NSW town is paying blokes not to leave

| 06.11,11. 07:39 AM |


dying NSW town is paying blokes not to leave


STRUGGLING to survive under the weight of the coalmining boom, the tiny town of Coonabarabran is so desperate to keep its workforce, it's paying them not to leave.
Bleeding by people leaving for the rich coalfields, the mid-western town has since suffered an arson attack which ravaged the sawmill last week, leaving 16 men without jobs.

It was a devastating blow to the town of 3000. Faced with the loss of more workers - and their families - the council threw the men a lifeline, offering temporary work until the mill is rebuilt.

"We just couldn't risk any of those people moving away," council general manager Steve Loane said. "We needed to ensure those folks didn't go without a pay cheque."Nestled in the foothills of the picturesque Warrumbungles, Coonabarabran is not unlike so many towns battling to keep its community intact. Thirty people have left this year, lured away by the high wages in the mines.

But it's only the calm before the storm.

In 2013, a mine is expected to open at Cobbora - and being only 110km away, the exodus of skilled workers could be another nail in the coffin of local businesses.

But the council is determined to do everything in its power to enrich the lives of those who live there, with incentives such as cheap accommodation and relocation costs to fill vacancies. And it is considering introducing a job-sharing program with the mines to avoid losing workers.Mr Loane said the council allowed staff to spend months away from their jobs to work in the mines and earn double or triple their salaries."We can't compete with the high wages ... so we've got to start thinking outside the square," he said.

"We're on a treadmill of training young people and then the coal mines pinch them."We're open to forming a partnership with them as a way of keeping staff and avoiding the highly expensive costs of recruitment and training."

A mining job can triple an average council worker's wage, but the average salary boost is 30 per cent.

Unable to match the lucrative pay, the council's plan is to allow staff to work on mining projects on higher pay as long as they return to complete their duties as council employees for part of the year.Staff including engineers, urban planners and heavy equipment plant operators are expected to be lured away over the next year.

Nurses, chefs, teachers and council workers are all in high demand in Coonabarabran, but employers say they struggle to fill positions, with some vacancies open for more than a year.

At Cooinda Nursing Home, the second-biggest employer in Coonabarabran, care manager Sue Stephenson is searching for a registered nurse.

The nursing home needs a registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day to operate.

Ms Stephenson said the nursing home managed to get by with the registered nurses it had on staff - but it would be in trouble in the future if it did not fill the position soon.

Restaurant owner Kodi Brady has been looking for a chef since he opened his doors 14 months ago.

He said he would "do almost anything" to convince a qualified chef to move to town and work in his restaurant. Cheap accommodation, free meals and flexible working hours are just some of the perks he is willing to offer.

Recently arrived migrants keen to find stable employment quickly have become the town's last hope.

Engineer Omar Saad, 34, has just settled into country life with wife Maya and son Jason, 1. Mr Saad, who was born in Lebanon, moved to Australia four months ago and found a job with the Warrumbungle Shire Council.

He said he didn't mind whether he settled in the city or the country - his biggest concern was providing a stable income for his family and establishing a new home.


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