FIFO debate continues: protests expected

Fly-in fly-out workers may decrease significantly in coming years, as the industry focuses on better health and safety of its staff.

The Central Queensland News snapped photos this week of men power-napping on concrete paths and benches at the Emerald Airport, most likely on their way to or from a stint on a mine.

Queensland Mining Communities president Kelly Vea Vea told the News was unsurprised by the men napping in the cold and said it has become increasingly common at airports with links to mines.

“Well, I suppose I’m not surprised because these companies are forcing people into these FIFO and drive in, drive out conditions without mitigating against the issue of fatigue management,” she said.

The topic of FIFO workers and the effects of the work schedule on miners, families and communities has been a hot topic of late.

While some companies are still employing the majority of their staff on FIFO contracts, the majority are acknowledging that it should be a last resort and mixed in with different kinds of workers.

Gervase Greene from Rio Tinto told Australian Mining earlier in the year that the companies are only incorporating FIFO where necessary.

“We do not see FIFO in isolation and don’t think others should,” he said.

“Its part of the balanced range of options we offer our workforce in the extremely competitive market for labour, and we have found that offering sweet options is much more successful in attracting and maintaining personnel.

Central Queensland University chronobiology and sleep Associate Professor Dr Naomi Rogers told The Central Queensland News the resource industry needs to adopt a standard fatigue management plan to replace current guidelines.

She said guidelines were “a good start”, but urged mining companies to introduce a standardised plan to minimise potential harm and fatalities as a result of long working hours.

“When a worker checks out of their room at the camp for their final shift before they go home, they immediately lose that room when someone else checks in so they don’t have the chance to rest before they drive the seven or eight hours home to their families.”

“The accommodation shortage has a direct link to worker fatigue, and as a result, they are sleeping in cars, on the side of the road, or wherever they can.”

Rogers said the coronial inquest into the deaths of Norwich Park and Blackwater mine workers were the first real investigation into the dangers of fatigue.

She wants the study findings to be presented at the Queensland Mining Health and Safety conference in Townsville later this year to move toward fatigue management reform at mine sites.

CFMEU Industry Safety and Health representative Chris Gilbert expressed concerns with the demands placed on workers at mines.

He said the push to meet increased production levels due to the resources boom was putting lives at risk, but was not addressed in policy.

“With all the extended shifts and compressed rosters, such as doing 12 and 14-hour days to have more time on the coast, the dangers of fatigue increase,” he said.

“It’s not just the shifts but the travel time to and from the site and then the general things workers have to do to stay alive that cut into the amount of sleep they are getting.”

Many new mines in Australia are using FIFO only as a last resort, as the effects of workers arriving and leaving communities so frequently has been shown to have detrimental effects.

Michael Sutherland, General Manager of Alkane Resources, which has several new projects in the pipeline in central New South Wales told Australian Mining the company hopes to seize the opportunity to employ mostly local people for its operations.

“I don’t see FIFO being a big part of our operations,” he said.

“We want to hire locals where we can, because it’s better all around.”

Next Tuesday hundreds of residents, families and businesses are expected to protest against BMA’s application for a 100 per cent FIFO workforce at it’s Caval Ridge mine near Moranbah.

“In a time where mining companies are achieving world record profits and landbanking considerable amounts of residential land, people should have the freedom to choose if they would like to live locally or commute, without being forced into a transient lifestyle,” Vea Vea said.

“This application is bad for families, bad for communities and bad for Central Queensland’s economy because 100 per cent of any economic benefit will fly out with this project.

“This precedent would open the floodgates for unsustainable development, population imbalance and reduce the livability of our regional centres and mining communities.”

Head of Commercial Services and airport operations, Col Dziewicki said Clermont airport is closed for upgrades, contributing to increased traffic through Emerald.

He was unaware people were sleeping at the airport but said “If it gets to the point where it’s disruptive to the rest of the airport we will be taking some action.”


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