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FTR: Isolation a challenge – report

THE Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA believes mining companies are responding to the unique issues and challenges faced by fly-in fly-out workers and their families, with FIFO workers now making up just under half of the resources sector’s total workforce. A new report by the CME on FIFO in the WA resources sector says companies are responding to issues of isolation and distance from families through a number of initiatives, including site visits by family, improved email and internet communications, flexible roster arrangements and regular family social events. Several companies are also incorporating measures in the preappointment stage to assist potential employees and their families determine if the FIFO lifestyle is right for them. Chamber of Minerals and Energy director David Parker said the practice appeared to be uniquely Western Australian, with the state also the most advanced in terms of application of FIFO practices. He said families were now offered more support and were given more information in the selection process and on an ongoing basis. “We’re not dropping them into the abyss, so to speak,” Mr Parker said. He said changing workplace demographics, dual career families and changing expectations of the workforce had all played a role in increasing the viability of FIFO for mining workers. “The chamber wants people to have choice,” Mr Parker said. The report says the location of mining operations in remote locations, limited land and infrastructure to accommodate residential populations, and pressures associated with the skilled labour shortage can influence a company’s decision to consider using FIFO. Also, offering prospective employees the choice of where to live was often crucial in the decision to accept a job. Research referred to in the report suggests that, while FIFO employees and their families do not differ from the general population in terms of overall mental health and wellbeing of family relationships, they do face unique issues and pressures associated with the lifestyle. Individual effects include fatigue and loneliness, family issues such as communication difficulties, continually changing roles and responsibilities, and the impacts of regular parent absence. Each month, 2,000 regional flights depart Perth Domestic Airport, with almost half flying directly to mining and oil and gas sites, and a further 20 per cent flying to traditional mining centres. This year, FIFO activity has expanded from only providing outbound services from Perth, to also offering services from Geraldton and Busselton to the Pilbara for Rio Tinto Iron Ore. A Melbourne to Kalgoorlie service was also introduced this year by Skywest, enabling Goldfields-based mining companies to directly access east coast-based workforce. WA-based regional airlines such as Skywest, Skippers Aviation and Network Aviation, together with interstate providers Alliance Airlines and QantasLink, have all benefited from the increase in demand for charter and FIFO services to the regions. Skywest passenger numbers for the current financial year to date are up almost 14 per cent on the previous corresponding period, reaching 223,000 passengers at January 31. Its charter flight services are up 140 per cent to 887, reflecting the number of new charter agreements it signed last year with mining companies including Newcrest Mining Group and Rio Tinto. Skippers Aviation increased its fleet capacity by almost 30 per cent last year to cater for the increase in demand from the mining sector.

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