FIFO workers have reported feeling minimal emotional attachment to the organisation they work for. Photo: Jacky Ghossein JGZ
FIFO, FIFO, it's off to work we go!
We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
In our mine the whole day through
To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
It’s what we like to do
It ain’t no trick
To get rich quick
If ya dig dig dig
With a shovel or a stick
In the mines! In the mines! In the mines!
Of all the perks available to a Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) worker, one of the best would have to be the benefit of a generous mining salary – the opportunity to get rich quick with a shovel or a stick – without needing to relocate to a different town. But despite the deceivingly positive Snow White lyrics, it’s a form of employment that comes with numerous downsides.
A parliamentary inquiry has found it’s a major reason why some country areas are struggling. While they’re there, FIFO workers stretch community resources and infrastructure. Then, as soon as they leave, the place becomes a ghost town. And those effects are creating a diminished community spirit, especially when locals are overlooked for jobs in favour of those from afar.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a majority of men who work in the mining sector are doing shift work – but only the strongest survive. In a (still ongoing) study being conducted at Griffith University, researchers have identified that one in five people quit within the first few months of employment.
One employer in particular – Australian Contract Mining – made the headlines in December for forcing staff to work over the Christmas and New Year period. A site manager even wrote a memo telling employees there was only one reason he’d accept for their absence from work over the holiday period.
Some of those who persevere with the gruelling work and the chronic hours are plagued with health issues. Substance abuse, alcohol-related violence, mental health problems, injuries caused by fatigue, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a few of the most common.
Those were the results from a survey of 300 mining workers conducted by the Australian Medical Association last year. The survey revealed that STIs were a “major problem”, with doctors even warning of a serious epidemic. The STIs, they said, were often contracted in South-East Asia – a popular holiday spot for the cashed-up workers – where the strain of infections is harsher.
Even putting aside the health concerns, there’s evidence to suggest that the FIFO method of employment damages relationships.
Murdoch University released two papers a few months ago that highlighted the impact of the FIFO lifestyle on families. One of these was that workers were happy with their rosters but their partners, on the other hand, felt unsatisfied and stressed. Which makes sense when you consider the pressure and loneliness of spending long periods of time alone, often with kids to look after.
The findings from the psychologists at Murdoch University also showed that mining workers felt their employers didn’t care for their wellbeing and didn’t provide enough support. In reality, the employers offer plenty of support - it’s just that workers aren't aware of the services available. Of greater significance is that workers feel as though they don’t belong, with many reporting minimal emotional attachment to the organisation.
Despite these negative effects, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia expects the use of FIFO workers to grow in the coming years. This will generate plenty of opportunities that will be snapped up by eager candidates who’ll love their job and the lifestyle that comes with it. But many others will be surprised to discover that it’s just the beginning of a very tough time.
Are you a FIFO worker? Is the money worth it?
Follow James Adonis on Twitter @jamesadonis