The Australian mining industry is gearing up to use "pit-stop" crews of temporary overseas workers to service major projects in the north of WA, according to an engineering contractor.
Mining services group Logicamms said major companies were planning the move as they looked to save on labour costs.
Although teams of overseas workers were already servicing offshore oil and gas facilities, Logicamms strategy and developments director Karsten Gustera said many big remote onshore mining operations could soon be maintained by temporary crews rather than a permanent workforce.
"I think in a couple of years time, probably on a five-year horizon, we're probably going to see pit-stop maintenance crews coming from overseas to maintain these mine facilities because it's going to be too expensive to get Australian labour," Mr Gustera said.
Logicamms organises operational and regulatory work with resources companies such as Rio Tinto and Chevron.
Mr Gustera said the hydrocarbon sector was already talking about using pit-stop maintenance crews of overseas workers as cost pressures on labour forced proponents of bigger projects to look offshore.
And some big mining projects were already delivering projects using overseas labour.
"They're disguised as specialists but in reality they're basically doing the maintenance activities," he said.
Mechanisms were being put in place to simplify the process after billionaire Gina Rinehart's company Hancock Prospecting was granted approval to use foreign workers.
Hancock Prospecting - the only company to sign an enterprise migration agreement with the Federal Government - recently appointed national workforce services company Skilled to canvass interest from jobseekers for its $9.5 billion Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara.
Under the agreement, workers must be paid the same rate as Australian employees and operate under the same conditions.
It comes amid sector-wide job losses, after about 900 mining jobs were slashed at BHP Billiton and Xstrata's Australian operations last month.
Australian Associated Press