The number of mine workers on fly-in fly-out (FIFO) work agreements is increasing, but experts warn their sex lives may be doing the opposite. Recent studies show while the money earned is great, the tens of thousands of workers who fly between work and home are facing long term disruption to both the employee and their partner. Managers are now being forced to provide more than high wages and accommodation and also consider the sex lives of workers, to ensure workers are happier in relationships to perform better at work.
A study conducted at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia revealed it can be more difficult for female partners to become pregnant or to have sexual relations if their menstrual cycle did not fit in with the roster. “It’s a massive issue,” one respondent said. Dating coaches and bloggers have also sprung up throughout the industry, providing advice and counselling for people affected by FIFO. The issue of FIFO work has been a hot topic in recent years, with much talk from both sides of the argument. Some say it is well known FIFO workers are more likely to be depressed, have drug and alcohol issues and suffer relationship breakdowns, while others argue that the work arrangement can provide more flexibility, particularly for families where both families fly into work and fly home for weeks at a time.
Despite the debate surrounding the topic, and the creation of organisations such as Mining Family Matters, which deals with the issues of FIFO and its impacts on workers and families, there have been little study conducted into the long-term effects of the work type. “It isn’t an easy existence to be a fly-in, fly-out miner, but nor is it easy to conceive of the opposite which would be building great big mining towns that people are going to stay in forever,” Michael Rafferty, a senior research analyst at the University of Sydney told the Herald Sun. “Australia is a very urbanised country and it’s quite difficult to attract people permanently to rural and remote areas.” The high cost of living in mining towns has only increased the number of workers living outside the area they work in, with the median weekly rent in the Pilbara more that $1500, and new three bedroom apartments leased for about $2000 a week.
A study by the University of Western Sydney’s Workplace Research Centre will examine the effects of FIFO, looking at people still in the industry as well as those no longer employed in the sector. Dr Rafferty, who is leading the research, told the Herald Sun there is already evidence showing the impacts different rosters have on workers. Neville Bruce, from the Centre for Integrated Human Studies at the University of Western Australia, who supervised a study examining the personal issues of FIFO workers said he believes companies are making improvements in how they address the situation. “There will be occasional problems in individual groups, but on the whole (companies have) established a reasonable working relationship for people going into fly-in, fly-out,” he said. “If they’re in a relationship, they have to make sure that their partners and family are in full agreement and continue to be so.”