Ex convicts to fill out job vacancies at Billiton's Olympic Dam

While the Australian government has started allowing miners to hire foreign workers to ease a labour shortage in the country, some companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have chosen to launch their own recruitment initiatives.

The most recent, and slightly controversial, is BHP Billiton’s program to hire low-security inmates from South Australia’s jails once they are released.

ABC News reports that the local government has been training prisoners to work in the mining sector and support industries, many of whom have been hired at BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine.

Qualifying potential employees are sent to Roxby Downs for several weeks, where they receive training and on the job experience.

After three years working in the prison kitchen, [Dale Partington] has been training to cook for miners who live in camps near outback Roxby Downs, a few hundred kilometres further north.

"Once I started the PREOP (Prisoner Reintegration Employment Opportunity Program) program, I expressed my interest in cooking where I found a passion and I did a day's work experience for a company called Sodexo and in the end I was offered a job in the kitchen there doing something I love," he said.

Kym Winter-Dewhirst, a BHP official, told ABC News the program benefited both the company and the community.

“It’s part of, at one level, our social licence to operate, it’s how we demonstrate to people above and beyond the normal things of business that we can actually deliver services, create opportunities for others outside of the normal framework that you would expect,” he said.

In April, Rio Tinto launched an aggressive recruitment campaign to fill 6,000 vacancies across its 30 operations in Australia. The move has been considered the largest such campaign in the country’s history so far.

In May, Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, granted its first Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) to the $9.3 billion Roy Hill iron ore mining project, part-owned by the country’s richest person and the world’s fifth wealthiest woman, Gina Rinehart.