The human resources dilemma faces many mining and exploration companies, and the correct answer isn’t always immediately forthcoming. In this article, we explore some of the key questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to onboard an in-house employee or a consultant to support you with tenement applications, tenement compliance, reporting, and other aspects of mining law in Australia.
With a contractor offering support as a mining lawyer, tenement management company, or environmental consultant, you may be paying more on an hourly basis. However, because you do not require their services on a 40-hour-a-week basis and can scale back in quieter periods, you are likely to pay less overall. Also, consider the need to insure employees, offer annual and sick leave, purchase equipment, allocate office space, and spend on other employee-related expenses.
Because a contractor brings extensive experience to the table, they need to be less actively managed and can take on a more independent role. This may be an important consideration if you do not have the capacity to allocate sufficient management resources to an employee handling your tenements.
Hiring an employee is also more of a commitment, whereas, with a contractor, the agreement generally carries less obligation. This means that you can ‘test the waters’ more safely than you can with an employee, and hire a suitably skilled workforce for projects or on an as-needs basis.
Aspects of the workflow are not always continuous in the world of tenement management, environmental approvals, and other aspects of exploration and mining tenure management. It is worth considering whether the work will be continuous enough to support a new full-time, permanent employee.
Sometimes, you will need dozens of tasks undertaken at short notice, whereas there may be weeks when there is less of an active role for a permanent employee to play in managing your tenement applications, a program of work, mine work health and safety, and so forth.
The temptation may then be to offer a part-time role. It is worth having a discussion with your human resource team to determine whether they believe you will be able to successfully hire an employee with the experience and advanced skill set for a part-time position.
Another challenge with part-time work is that it may result in your employee being unavailable when you need them most. While some aspects of exploration and mining law and tenement management can be foreseen and scheduled in advance, it can be hard to anticipate when others will arise – for example, an available site for exploration may appear, demanding immediate action.
The benefits of a tenement management company in such a situation are that they will always be available to provide advisory, management and other legal services, and represent your interests across all aspects of your tenure management.
Depending on the size of your operations and team, there may be no need to decide between in-house employees and contractors. You may have an in-house employee in this space who can draw in the services of a contractor on an as-needs basis, ensuring you only outlay investment in exploration, mining and environmental services as required. This collaborative approach works well for many companies.
One of the arguments for a contractor is that they are able to offer an independent judgement and assessment of your circumstances, your likelihood to succeed, and other aspects that are relevant to obtaining and maintaining tenements for exploration and extraction, compliance, and environmental and other ancillary approvals.
There is a risk that the judgement of internal employees may be clouded by being too close to the matter at hand, and potentially by the relationship with their management or directorial team.
An external contractor also brings with them extensive exposure to environmental and mining law across Australia. They understand how to negotiate with landholders, Native Title claimants, stakeholders, Governments, and other parties; how and when to submit tenement applications and compliance reports, and all the minute details that must be included. They bring experience with other cases and scenarios similar to your own, where an internal employee – being based in one company – may have less of an opportunity to take the broader view.
If you do decide to recruit the services of environmental consultants, mining lawyers, tenement consultants, or mine work health and safety experts, Hetherington is ready to support you to maintain relationships, achieve and maintain compliance, prepare and lodge applications, and drive operational success. For more information on how we can help, browse our website or contact our team.