Response to Australian Mining – FIFO mental health reporting

AMMA is very disappointed in Australian Mining’s  highly negative representation of our submission to the West Australian parliamentary inquiry into the mental health impacts of FIFO work arrangements.

While we welcome objective discussion of our policy and advocacy work, the claim that AMMA is in any way ‘downplaying’ the issue of mental health among Australia’s FIFO workforce is way off the mark.

AMMA’s submission incorporates feedback from a broad spectrum of stakeholders across the industry, many of whom work side-by-side with resource employees facing the unique challenges of FIFO lifestyles every day.

Any suggestion that the employers represented by AMMA seek to ‘belittle’ the issue of mental health in the workplace is not only offensive, but lacks any understanding of the significant energy and focus employers have put into comprehensive FIFO wellbeing initiatives over the past decade and more.

Many remote site locations feature on-site entertainment and recreational facilities, counselling and support services for financial, relationship and career advice, and regularly present on mental health issues and how workers can ensure they’re watching out for their workmates.

However, resource employers are also very aware that these on-site initiatives alone are not enough to address the challenges of mental wellness among FIFO employees.

The range of unique factors associated with FIFO work must be acknowledged and managed by employers as part of ‘whole-of-business’ mental health and workplace safety policies and initiatives. Some employers do this better than others.

Proper mitigation strategies need to be considered to ensure risks to workers are reduced to the greatest extent possible. This includes comprehensive pre-employment strategies to ensure suitability and capacity to enter this lifestyle before being recruited to FIFO roles.

All this was outlined in AMMA’s submission to the WA parliamentary inquiry. It was important that the industry, through AMMA, provided an overview of the initiatives, activities and programs already in place that the WA Legislative Assembly Committee needs to take into account.

Listing such positive, industry-driven initiatives is in no way an attempt to downplay the problem. Employers have never said that the inquiry is unnecessary or without merit, and indeed acknowledge that FIFO mental health is an extremely important area to keep on top of at all times. It’s critical that these challenges receive adequate attention from the resource industry, its workforce, and policy makers.

The specific assertion in Ben Hagemann’s opinion piece that AMMA does not have ‘the best interests of workers at heart’ is entirely misplaced and irresponsible.

In the area of mental health and overall employee wellbeing, the priorities of AMMA, the resource employers we represent, employees, unions and government, are the same. We all want and will benefit from a happy, healthy and engaged workforce where the wellbeing of all workers is treated as the absolute first priority in doing business. Frankly, we were very surprised to see an industry-geared news website suggest otherwise.

AMMA has long been a leading voice in promoting and supporting mental health initiatives in the resource industry. Our work in the area of mental health has been ongoing for many years and has ramped up significantly in 2014.

In 2012, we were one of the first national organisations to offer our full support to FIFO Families and we continue to give this valuable organisation direct access to our membership through a free-of-charge corporate sponsorship. We have also provided support and publicity to Mates in Construction, another mental health awareness initiative kicking goals within our sector.

At our 2014 National Conference, attended by more than 400 of the resource industry’s leading people managers and company executives, we actively promoted a special message on depression awareness from leading mental health organisation beyondblue and featured WA Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney as special guest.

In coming weeks, we will launch a joint initiative with beyondblue that will see the roll-out of resource industry specific mental health awareness programs to mining, oil and gas and construction workplaces across the country.

It is very clear in our submission that AMMA’s view is that mental health should be a priority focus right across our community. Thus, it was very disappointing to read strong criticism of AMMA’s intentions due to referencing unsolicited, independent and objective research by Safe Work Australia that showed limited evidence of a causal link between FIFO work and depression or self-harm.

Such data does not downplay the issue, but rather illustrates the complexities of the challenges ahead. Our submission seeks to ensure any policy response from state or federal governments is guided by all the facts and knowledge about what is or isn’t reported, what employers are already doing, and what employers are already doing.

In short, we support Australian Mining in prioritising this incredibly important subject, and in discussing complex issues such as roster cycles or any underreporting of depression in the sector.

However, if your reporters seek to make a valuable contribution to the debate, surely they can do so in a more mature and constructive way than by attacking an industry representative organisation that has been supporting safe, socially responsible and sustainable employment in Australia’s resource industry since 1918.

 

Scott Barklamb is the AMMA executive director, policy and public affairs.

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