A matter of choice: capturing the FIFO opportunity in Pilbara communities

Regional planning Labour market Mining Fly-in fly-out workers Labour mobility Pilbara
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FIFO employment is much talked about, but is not well understood. In remote areas of Australia today, and Western Australia particularly, it provides a significant and growing proportion of the workforce needed by the resources sector, and is anticipated to double within the next 3-5 years. Workforce mobility and employment choice has become, and will continue to be, a significant factor in the nation’s prosperity through contributing to the significant role of the resources industry in the national economy.

PICC member companies have been amongst the pioneers of residential workforces in Western Australia through the establishment of towns such as Newman, Dampier, Wickham, Paraburdoo, Pannawonica and Tom Price. All PICC member companies continue their commitment to providing residential based employment in Pilbara towns through the provision of permanent residential accommodation and by investing in the communities in which they operate.

Providing choice to workers is critical to the resources industry and the economy, and reflects the need to attract and retain a mobile, skilled national labour pool. Workers and their families shape the nature of the FIFO opportunity through their decisions on where they wish to live and who they choose to work for. Each company responds to the preferences of many workers and their families who want to commute from their existing home location rather than take up residential employment opportunities in the Pilbara. PICC member companies also recognise that labour-intensive, short-term activities such as construction and maintenance work are best managed through FIFO arrangements. This practical approach recognises that it would be inappropriate to expect workers to uproot themselves and/or their families in order to take on a residential position that only offers a short-term employment contract, as is often required in construction and maintenance positions. The reasons for workers choosing FIFO employment can be many and varied, particularly when considering the opportunities of a larger urbanised environment, where many reside, which often has more varied community services, and amenities, lower cost of living, and a broader range of spousal employment opportunities.

Other considerations include different weather conditions and physical separation from family and friendship networks. Today’s employers cannot afford to overlook the high value placed on choice by those they need and want to employ, and nor are they, or should they be, in a position to force people to live in particular locations. The preference for FIFO work choice is particularly evident with employees involved in the construction phase of a resource project, where a worker may only be required to perform their specialist trade for weeks or months at a time. It is not viable or appropriate for a company to only offer residential employment that would require the employee to move themselves or their families to a new town and change their preferred lifestyle for such a short period.

The Western Australian Government’s Pilbara Planning and Infrastructure Framework (2012) acknowledges that FIFO workforces are an important method of adapting to constantly changing labour requirements, particularly for specialist skills and during the construction stage of projects. The Framework also recognises that there has been a cause and effect relationship between an insufficient supply of land and accommodation, and the demand for FIFO workforce accommodation. It is important to note that the use of FIFO employment options can provide a buffer for governments and communities to develop local community infrastructure and services once there is an assurance of sustainable populations. Contributing to the development of a shared vision and approach to the sustainability of Pilbara towns is a priority for PICC. In relation to this priority, PICC recognises the need for a higher level of discussion about FIFO challenges, opportunities and benefits. PICC is committed to promoting innovation in this area and member companies are committed to meeting the needs of its workforce and optimising opportunities for host communities. The potential is for mutually beneficial outcomes – social and economic benefits for communities; benefits for employees in the areas of lifestyle choice and employment experience; and benefits for employers in the areas of attraction and retention of skilled staff.

A Matter of Choice: Capturing the FIFO Opportunity in Pilbara Communities articulates PICC’s aspiration and response to stakeholder expectations in the Pilbara by moving towards integration between ‘in town’ FIFO accommodation facilities and host Pilbara communities. It also promotes a more balanced understanding of the critical importance of FIFO to regional communities and the broader economy. FIFO camps that are remote from towns present a different set of issues, and PICC believes a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to FIFO is not appropriate. Locating FIFO accommodation facilities, particularly for operational employees, within or proximate to towns is preferred by PICC member companies wherever possible, and is now encouraged by a number of Pilbara local governments. This is likely to increase over time, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that town access assists with the attraction and retention of employees and can create greater economic and social benefits for the host communities. PICC member companies are committed to collaborations that optimise integration for the mutual benefit of communities and FIFO employees.

This publication examines FIFO trends in the Western Australian context, literature on the subject, new directions in FIFO integration and provides examples of current practices of PICC member companies. It purposely does not address Drive-in Drive-out (DIDO) practices, as this is generally not applicable to PICC member companies, but focuses clearly on the goals, principles and strategies that will guide PICC members in optimising the benefits that flow to communities from in-town FIFO practices

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