New prospects for FIFO legislation in WA

Battlelines are being drawn more clearly in the WA Parliamentary Inquiry into FIFO Impacts on Mental Health, with submissions from the CFMEU and Chamber of Minerals and Energy to be heard today.

CFMEU WA state secretary Mick Buchan will present a submission which made a number of recommendations to the inquiry, including a call for legislation that would govern the duration of FIFO rosters.

The submission recommended that roster lengths and compressions should be considered a health and safety issue “and as such should be subject to regulation.”

“This may be in the form of a code of practice of enforced regulatory regime around optimum roster length such as three weeks away, one week off,” the submission read.

The submission also recommends that mental health for FIFO workers should also be subject to a regulatory regime or code of practice to ensure best practice support is available on site and in camps.

However, a submission from the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) made recommendations against those of the CFMEU, stating “the committee should not impose prescriptive requirements on working hours or roster cycles.”

The CME also said it did not consider occupational health and safety to be “the appropriate mechanism for addressing this issue and recommends the Committee recognise mental health as a public issue in considering the adequacy of current policies and legislative requirements.”

Potential outcomes of the inquiry

Committee chair and member for Eyre Dr Graham Jacobs said the inquiry had found that data relating to suicides and FIFO statistics was very difficult to locate and research.

“What has been evident is that this data is not in any way centrally collated,” Jacobs said.

“I’m a little surprised and disappointed there’s no central database we can refer to.

“Some organisations have some of the data, but there’s no central database, and that makes this very difficult, because we’re still trying to determine, when we talk about the prevalence of the problem: Have we got an issue?”

“Some people are saying it’s no different to the general population, but we’ve got a lot of work to do yet.”

Jacobs told Australian Mining that it was likely that the inquiry would recommend the establishment of a central data collection facility or agency that could monitor and record information relating to FIFO employment.

“I wouldn’t want to pre-empt it, but I think there is a likelihood because of the surprise and disappointment we’ve had when trying to just look at some of the basic data in a central database, but that option is not available,” he said.

“We’re getting mixed messages about what those figures are, so hopefully by the time we’re finished we’ll have clarified that.”

Workers avoiding prescription drugs

In the wake new revelations that workers with mental health issues have avoided using anti-depressants for fear the results of drug testing would unofficially preclude them from employment, more anecdotal evidence supporting these claims has been gathered by the AMWU.

AMWU West Australia secretary Steve McCartney said his submission to the inquiry had already brought more workers forward to provide anecdotal evidence of their reluctance to use anti-depressant medication and other prescription drugs.

Download and read submissions to the Inquiry into Mental Health Impacts of FIFO Work Arrangements here.