Fly in fly out (FIFO) life may have started as long ago as the turn of the century. Long distance commuting has a special place in the history in Western Australia and is used by many sectors other than resources. Since the first half of the 20th century, shearing teams from Perth were recruited to ply their trade at sheep stations from the Kimberley all the way through to our southern pastoral regions.
The resources sector first began using FIFO workers in the Pilbara during the 60s, when specialist labour was used to construct iron ore mining and shipping facilities.
Following on from this early success, accommodation was built for more FIFO teams to help construct the North West Cape Naval Communications Facilities and the Exmouth town site.
The FIFO model provided an alternative to the expensive and disruptive process of constructing an entire town only to then abandon it as soon as operations wound down.
FIFO workers are now relied upon across WA to provide a range of services, including resources sector labour, medical specialists and education.
What does FIFO look like today?
Over the past decade the Western Australian resources sector has undergone a rapid expansion, with a doubling of the sector’s workforce.
The majority of WA resources operations are remotely located, often lacking the proximity to a regional centre with vital infrastructure, services or skilled labour. This challenge has grown significantly in recent times, with more operations being developed in the more remote corners of our state. In these circumstances, there is no other option than for the mining workforce to be FIFO.
The FIFO experience can vary from company to company, site to site, and depends on whether the project is in its construction, operational or maintenance phase. Each of these variables on FIFO sites means different skill sets and housing facilities will be required at various times.
What is the accommodation like?
The expectation for quality FIFO accommodation is increasing, which is why the industry is moving away from rows of ‘dongas’ to more attractive ‘villages’ that are able to provide a relaxing, comfortable environment for employees living the FIFO lifestyle.
Onsite facilities are equipped with en-suite rooms and recreation amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, sporting courts and games rooms. Meals provided for FIFO workers in the mess facilities would rival most hotel buffets with a selection of hot and cold dishes with healthy low-fat options always available.
Images used courtesy of BHP Billiton
What types of rosters are available?
Flexibility is important for FIFO workers, which is why there’s now a greater variety of rosters available than ever before.
These FIFO rosters vary greatly depending upon the company, the remoteness of the location, the commodity and the employee’s role.
The project’s phase also plays a pivotal role, with the construction and maintenance cycles generally associated with longer rosters. Conversely, the production phase typically involves shorter ones.
Common FIFO rosters in the mining industry for operational roles are:
- 8 days on/6 days off
- 9 days on/6 days off
- 2 weeks on/1 week off
- 3 weeks on/1 week off (for projects with a shorter construction phase).
FIFO work schedules also vary depending on the nature of the commodity and the sector. In the oil and gas industry, for instance, it’s not unusual for companies to offer even time, or rosters such as 4 weeks on/4 weeks off.