The revolving door


On my daily FIFO alerts I am increasingly seeing jobs adds and opportunities for FIFO house sharing. This shift away from Newspaper reports and or academic research studies has been growing over the past few months. Rarely do I see any mention of new research project or an article that tries to explore the range of issues faced by the FIFO family in any detail. I wait in anticipation for such news!

With this change in mind my thoughts go toward job security, retention rates and the impact these issues have not only on the FIFO worker and their family but also the cost to companies and the industry as a whole when FIFO workers leave a job.

In my own small circle I know of three FIFO workers who have left their FIFO employment this year. Two left because they wanted to have an extended holiday with their family after 12 months full time work. When they requested leave these contractors in WA’s Pilbara were not given permission and told they must resign if they wanted 4 weeks off. In order to take their well deserved break and spend quality time with partners and children they had to either forgo the family time or leave their jobs. The choice for these two FIFO men was simple. Unfortunately for many it is not always that easy.

The other FIFO worker left a senior FIFO position after 12 months because the impact on his family became too great and any financial gains he received from working FIFO no longer out weighed the losses felt by the family. Of this very small sample 1 has recommenced FIFO work in a different state, the other is actively looking for FIFO work in the same state and the final man has made a decision not to pursue FIFO employment again.

This process is quite stressful on the FIFO worker and the family at home. Not only does it raise the question of financial issues/stresses on FIFO workers (especially contractors who do not get  paid if they do not work) the families at home who must re-adjust the domestic budget to accommodate no income or fluctuating house hold incomes but, it also begs the following question …. What is the cost of the revolving door of FIFO workers? What is the cost to individuals, companies, industry and,more broadly, to the community and the Australian financial and social economy as a whole?

Recent mining statistics suggest that 35% of FIFO workers leave their jobs each year. At an estimated cost of $40,000 per change over this is a significant cost to all concerned. If we are conservative and suggest that only 25% of the estimated FIFO workforce in 2013 (approximately 200,000) leave their jobs in the next 12 monthly the cost of this revolving door employment process will be around $20,000,000! Staggering. Serious and Stressful.

In my small and anecdotal research survey the key reason why all three men left their FIFO jobs was clear.  When given the choice between their commitment to family and their commitment to work when push came to shove family came first! Why then is the industry not spending more time and money addressing this core, universal and almost invisible issue around FIFO and or mobility in the work place?  Where are the long term thinkers in this industry and are they awake?

In a piece of Research from 2008 by Anne Sibbel and Elizabeth Zaczmarek  the issue of retention rates and mobility or FIFO work was touched on in a small study about FIFO and its impact on the family, in particular on the mental health of children.  Their findings although now over 5 years old highlight the common issue that determines the success or failure of the FIFO or mobile work life practice in a given family. That factor or success issue is Support! It  is the support and ability of the woman who remains at home to manage the domestic industry and the raising of the next generation of Australians. If these essential elements of the domestic environment are not working and women are not supported then the well being of everyone is compromised.  In its broadest sense this is the sole reason why worker retention is a serious issue and the FIFO revolving door swings as often as it does. The importance of the domestic industry and the health of our future generations is for the main largely invisible still in the funding and planning of future mobile enterprise practices. WHY?? when there are so many ways we could begin to measure the cost of not supporting women, children and the families of FIFO or mobile workers?

In the abstract that can be viewed for free of the research the following quote supports the idea that without support the FIFO or mobile lifestyle is stressful and doomed to fail.

“However, mothers from the FIFO families reported significantly more stress than the military and community groups with respect to communication, support and behaviour control within the family. “

An old saying sums up what appears to be invisible still to so many in positions of power in the FIFO industry. ” It takes a village to raise a child” this saying is even more true when families are separated for weeks at a time with FIFO or constant mobility as the work/life practice. What is your experience of the revolving FIFO work door? Has it impacted your family and if so how?


One thought on “The revolving door

  1. fifopregnancystudy

    Hello Linette Good news –new FIFO research is alive and well and focussed on women. Our aim is to give loud and proud voice – telling their stories of how they “keep on doing what Aussie girls need to do”

    The FIFO Pregnancy Study is funded for 1000’s pregnant women initially WA based with collaboration to be invited from interested researchers in Queensland (please advise if you know who best to contact)

    Not sure where you are based but would love to have coffee one day if we are in same city!

    Please tell me if you would like to know more about our study which is in UWA Ethics approvals stage. In early 2014, I propose to start interviewing pregnant women whose partners work FIFO as well as pregnant women who themselves work FIFO.

    Warm regards Lori Jacobs PhD candidate Coordinator, FIFO Pregnancy Study M: 0404303440 The University of Western Australia NB I am in Brisbane 8-10 November 2013 to visit my daughter.

    Sent from my iPhone


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