A parliamentary committee is examining the mental health impacts of the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) work arrangements that are so widely employed by the resources sectors in remote parts of Australia.

A spate of suicide deaths amongst FIFO worker in the Pilbara prompted the formation of the committee, which will investigate whether resource companies are adopting sufficient measures to protect the psychological well-being of their staff.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is amongst those calling for changes to FIFO schedules on the grounds of what it claims is their detrimental effect upon the mental health of workers.

“You’d have to be pretty naïve to think there’s no correlation between FIFO rosters and the health and well-being of workers,” said CFMEU WA secretary Mick Buchan outside the parliamentary hearing.

“From the experience of suicides of our members, and the members of other unions, the health and well-being of our members…there is time for change.”

Buchan’s remarks came in response to statements made by a Chevron executive before the committee casting doubt over a link between FIFO and psychological stress.

“I don’t think I’ve seen evidence to suggest FIFO is causing increased stress or increased mental illness,” said Kaye Butler, Chevron’s general manager for human resources. “No research suggests the work roster or schedule is directly link to mental health.”

Butler further said the heavy fatigue suffered by many workers was not necessarily caused the rigours of a FIFO schedule.

“You can’t put one template on every situation,” said Butler. “It could be coming from sleep apnea…it could be a relationship problem.”

Buchan wants greater dialogue between workers and employers on the issue of adjusting rosters to suit the interests of both parties.

“We want to be able to sit down in a constructive way whether it be with Chevron, whether it be with the large resource companies, to be able to work together towards a roster that’s going to benefit all stakeholders,” he said.

Buchan and Butler’s remarks arrive just after Western Australian construction and maintenance company Goodline triggered the ire of union officials with an advertisement for electricians that outlined an extreme work schedule.

The advertisement was for a permanent 56-hours-a-week FIFO job with four weeks of annual leave as well as a local allowance.

Steve McCartney, state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, called the 12/1 roster advertised exploitative and ruinous for the psychological well-being of workers.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that companies are preying on the job security fears of our FIFO members to force them into rosters that will kill workers’ marriages and wreck their mental health,” he said.

  • Considering the number of people involved in FIFO and DIDO mining, there is very little consideration of how mining accommodation can enhance mental health. Large complexes are designed and installed often circumventing scrutiny by private certifiers and local councils. On a mining lease or designated as a "Significant" project. Rows of dongas and cabins connected with covered walkways, poor quality recreation areas, often un-useable, rooms often have no access to the internet or telephone. Some have poor access to fire fighting and no central fire control room. Towns in central Queensland such as Emerald and Blackwater were designed to ensure that workers were in a township with all the amenities of a small town. Todays FIFO and DIDO workers are held being enclosures and encourages not to leave the accommodation complex. Where are the minimum requirements for a gymnasium, entertainment area, sport and recreation in large complexes? In most cases these facilities are entirely at the discretion of the resource company. A Galilea coal mine, had proposed a mining village with accommodation for families, sports and recreation facilities, school and community services. Gulag or Resort?

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