Key points:
  • The “Designated Area Migration Agreement” covers 66 occupations in trades, engineering, and service-based fields

  • Local businesses say staff shortages have been particularly acute since the onset of the pandemic

  • The Karratha District Chamber of Commerce says some of its members are working 60 to 90 hours a week to keep doors open despite staff shortages


Businesses in the Pilbara have been quick to welcome a new migration agreement that will help address “dystopian” skills shortages in the region.

The Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) will make it easier for skilled workers in trades, engineering, and service fields to move from overseas to Karratha and Port Hedland to work.

For the past two years, the owner of Karratha-based cafe Lo’s, Ginger Lo, said it has been incredibly challenging to find workers.

“The wages are like a competition now, so we increased the wages, but I guess it is not competitive enough,” Ms. Lo said.

“I just want to say to all the hospitality owners, we’re on the same page. I’m going to cry because it’s very hard, but we just do our best.”

Ms. Lo said she hoped workers would be willing to move to the Pilbara and take up the opportunities of the DAMA.

“I have two young kids so the balance between the business and the family is difficult. I just need someone or a few people to be stable enough to work in the cafe.”

Of the 66 eligible occupations, the chief executive of Regional Development Australia Tony Simpson said about half were in the service-based industry.

“We need to get the person making our coffee, pouring our beer, delivering our food, washing the dishes, childcare workers, everything that keeps our towns ticking along.”

Some owners working ‘up to 90 hours a week’ 

Federal Member for Durack and Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Technology Melissa Price said if small and medium business could not grow, it was a problem for everyone.

“We always want locals to get the jobs but SMEs say to me, especially in the Pilbara, ‘we just can’t find people,” she said.

President of the Karratha District Chamber of Commerce Jared Fitzclarence said the staff shortages have been crippling right across the local economy.

“I was supposed to have a dinner meeting last week, we turned up at the restaurant and it was shut,” Mr. Fitzclarence said.

“It’s dystopian and a lot of other regions don’t understand that.

He said business owners had “been sustaining that for years, since COVID, and they’re burning out”.

“Hopefully being able to attract some resources and get some help within their organisations, they can start to have a better quality of life and to refocus on what’s important within their business, more of the strategy … rather than just dealing with the spotfires on a day-to-day basis.”

Mr. Fitzclarence is also the managing director of KAW Engineering and said worker shortages have restricted the business’s operations.

Filling even a few positions would make a considerable difference, Mr. Fitzclarence said.

“We have over 20 vacancies in our organisation. And a lot of those have been there for quite a long period of time, so even if we could fill three or four of those with the DAMA, that would be a dramatic benefit to us. We had a mechanical and mining engineer a few years ago and his visa came to an end and was not renewed. We haven’t been able to adequately fill that role for the past four years, since he left.

He is very excited to come back from the UK and we’re really excited to be able to now start that application.

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