Chapter 2 The FIFO workforce practice for resource development
Australia has a long history of remote mining operations, dating back to
the mid-nineteenth century. The workforce for these operations resided in small
towns of varying size which were generally developed near the mine sites by
The prosperity of these towns relied upon the combined efforts of
communities, resource companies, workers and their families. The mine could not
survive without workers and the town could not survive without the mine. The
success of the community and the success of the mine were inextricably
intertwined. A resource company was able to grow the economic value of the mine
by increasing the social and economic value of the town and its businesses.
This chapter discusses the history of staffing in the resources industry,
the current workforce profile and the emergence of FIFO as a workforce
Purpose-built company towns
Early housing for resource sector workforces usually consisted of
short-term accommodation such as tents, which were both inexpensive and portable.
The building of more permanent forms of accommodation was costly, as most of
the building materials needed to be imported into Australia and then
transported to site.
Mines which were large and prosperous enough to warrant long-term
investment in accommodation, soon began to attract permanent housing and form
small towns. As these towns grew, businesses servicing both the mine and its
Resource communities grew or diminished in response to the availability
of the resource being mined, the labour required to extract it and market
returns in the operations. This cycle of settlement and abandonment of towns
can be seen in the 1900s goldfields towns such as Kanowna, Niagara, Kurrajong
Some of Australia’s first purpose-built housing for mine workers was
constructed in the ‘company town’ of Kooringa, which was surveyed and
established by the South Australian Mining Association in 1845. By 1849, the
company was building cottages for its employees from materials they had imported
from Europe and the Atlantic seaboard of North America.
Efforts were made to invest in the development of accommodation in the
town, however, approximately 2 000 people— nearly half the town’s
population — lived in dugouts or burrows. The South Australian census in 1851
reported that in some parts of the town, ‘[t]here are no houses, the dwellings
being excavated in the banks of the Burra Creek.’
This and other early attempts by resource companies to artificially
develop towns were generally seen as unsuccessful. At Moonta in the 1860s, a
neat government grid plan was laid out for the town, which was largely ignored
by the mine workers. They chose instead to build their own cottages along their
own streets, resulting in a spontaneous settlement built alongside the
The lack of high-speed and reliable transportation and communication
meant that remote towns were often very isolated. Travel to and from regional
centres and cities was expensive and time-consuming. Inputs and outputs could
only be made in short stages and many towns could only be accessed via a
narrow-gauge railway system and a very poor road network.
Apart from a few experiments in company housing, such as those in
Kooringa, Australian resource companies did not provide housing to employees on
a significant scale. It was not until the 1920s, with companies such as Mt Isa
Mines in north Queensland and the Electrolytic Zinc Company in Hobart, that
resource companies began investing significantly in the construction of company
towns and the provision of company-built accommodation for their employees.
From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, the resources industry development primarily
relied on residential workforces, with twenty five new resource communities
established by resource companies in Australia between 1960 and 1975 in Western
Australia alone. Towns such as Tom Price, Karratha, Newman and Paraburdoo were
established to accommodate mine employees and their families; whilst existing
towns such as Port Hedland were developed and expanded for the same purpose.
Similar development took place in Queensland in towns such as Moranbah, Dysart
an Middlemount. Resource companies were assisted in this development through
benefits from government in the form of lower rates and taxes.
Large numbers of workers were needed to drive the resources industry
expansion. The investment and development of towns was not motivated by
philanthropy, but rather economic necessity. The success and prosperity of the
mine and the community that serviced it were linked and the resource companies
recognised the value in building a local labour supply chain.
In many cases, these purpose-built towns were classified as ‘closed
towns’. The resource company,
which had constructed the town, had full control and responsibility over all
aspects of town management, maintenance and development.
During the 1980s many of these closed towns were ‘normalised’ with
resource companies relinquishing responsibility for the town’s standard
functions, accountability and assets to local and state governments. Resource
companies retained varying degrees of responsibility for these towns and, in
most cases, continued to provide a level of support and funding for the ongoing
development of community infrastructure and services.
The degree to which this occurred during this period was dependent on
the level of economic diversification a town had achieved, with some towns,
which were not able to achieve adequate diversification remaining partially
Long distance commuting
Due to the expense of building in remote locations, Australia has a long
history of utilising mobile non-resident workforces. Many industries, such as
cattle, sheep, cotton and fruit, rely on seasonal workers travelling to remote
locations, staying for the season, and returning home or to a new work site
after the season is completed.
Long distance commuting, in which workers travel long distances to work
and then return to their permanent place of residence at regular intervals, only
became possible with the development of reliable, affordable and rapid
The emergence of fly-in, fly-out workforce practices
Fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workforce practices in the resource sector are
operations in which workers, but not their families, are provided with food and
accommodation at or near the mine site. Employee work patterns consist of a
rostered number of days on the site, followed by a rostered number of days at
their home. This regular rostered ‘on’ and ‘off’ work pattern, together with
the provision of transportation and accommodation, is what differentiates FIFO
from other work involving periodic absences from home.
FIFO workforce practices commenced in Australia in the 1960s
as a means of conveying employees to and from onshore and offshore oil rigs. As
air-travel became progressively more common and cost-effective, so too did FIFO
workforce practices. By the 1980s, a significant proportion of the remote
resource sector workforce was FIFO and the use of these workforce arrangements
was becoming increasingly common. The Western Australian
Local Government Association (WALGA) described the level of increase: ‘in the
last 20 years, the number of WA FIFO employees had increased 400 per cent.’
A number of factors have been put forward to suggest the rationale
behind the shift away from the construction of purpose-built company towns
- increasing costs
associated with building and operating towns in remote locations;
- increasing costs and
difficulties of providing social overhead capital;
- industrial disputes;
- short project lives
due to market considerations or small resource deposits;
- long and complex
approval processes associated with planning, operating and building towns in
- the costs associated
with the closure of towns once a resource is exhausted or no longer
- workers’ preferences
for the opportunities offered by larger metropolitan areas;
- the introduction of
the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986, that categorised company
housing as a ‘fringe benefit’, which would be taxed;
- a tight labour
- skilled labour
Current profile of the resource industry
In 2009/10, the resource industry contributed $121.5 billion dollars to
the Australian economy; 8.4 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product
In the period 2006/07 to 2010/11, the value of exports from the resource
industry more than doubled, with the resource sector’s contribution to total
goods exported from Australia climbing from 37 per cent in 2006/07 (see figure
2.1) to 55 per cent in 2010/11 (see figure 2.2).
As of 2008, Australia boasts the world’s largest economic resources of
brown coal, mineral sands (rutile and zircon), nickel, silver, uranium, zinc
and lead. The country also ranks amongst the top six worldwide for resources of
bauxite, black coal, copper, gold, industrial diamond, iron ore, limonite,
lithium, manganese ore, niobium, vanadium and antimony.
Figure 2.1 Share of Exports, by industry of origin,
‘Mining’, Year Book Australia, 2012, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra, 2012.
Over the last few decades, the Australian resource industry has
diversified through its exploration, mining and processing activities, as well
as through the supply and development of information technology, engineering,
construction and other services. The increasing globalisation of the industry
and the growth of multi-national resource companies have seen an increase in
Australian companies investing in overseas mines, as well as overseas
investment coming into Australia for exploration and the development or
expansion of mining and processing facilities.
According to the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE), as of
the end of October 2011, there were 102 projects at an advanced stage of
development, with a capital expenditure of $231.8 billion in Australia. This is
an increase of 34 per cent from April 2011, and a 74 per cent increase from
Figure 2.2 Share of Exports, by industry of origin, 2010/11
‘Mining’, Year Book Australia, 2012, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra, 2012.
There is also significant investment being made into minerals
exploration, with Australia recording its second-highest annual mineral
exploration expenditure in 2010/11, totalling $6.2 billion, 9 per cent higher
Although sources disagree on the exact number of mines currently
operating in Australia, according to Geoscience Australia, as of August 2011,
there were 365 mines in operation.
The resource sector’s workforce is characterised as a high income,
predominantly male workforce. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics
(ABS), as of May 2012, the resource industry employs approximately 269 300
The workforce is predominantly full-time, with 97 per cent of workers
engaged in full-time employment. The workforce is also older than the national
average, with a median age of 40 years, compared to the average 37 years for
the national workforce.
There is very little authoritative national data available on the use of
FIFO workforce arrangements therefore it is difficult to establish the extent
of the use of FIFO arrangements in the resource industry.
However, despite the lack of national data, a number of private
organisations have gathered and compiled information in an attempt to define
the FIFO presence in the resource industry. One such survey, of over 100 mine
operators and over 18 000 resource industry personnel, was conducted by
the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Western Australia in 2005 and found that
in Western Australia:
- 76.5 per cent of all
personnel were employed directly by mining companies;
- 23.5 per cent of all
personnel were employed by contractors;
- 53 per cent of all
mining employees (contractors and direct employees) were employed on a
- 47 per cent of all
mining employees were employed on a FIFO basis, including 4.7 per cent
utilising DIDO arrangements;
- 62.5 per cent of
directly employed personnel are residential and 37.5 per cent are FIFO; and
- 22.3 per cent of
contractor personnel are residential and 77.7 per cent are FIFO.
The Queensland Office of Economic and Statistical Research (QOESR)
regularly produces population reports regarding the presence of FIFO workers
for the resource regions of the Bowen Basin and Surat Basin. The most recent
reports found that:
6 445 FIFO workers on-shift were counted in the Surat Basin in late June
25 035 FIFO workers on-shift were counted in the Bowen Basin in late June
- the Surat Basin’s
FIFO worker population nearly doubled in 2011/12, growing by 97 per cent;
- the Bowen Basin’s
FIFO worker population increased by 22 per cent in 2011/12.
However, other than privately conducted or state-based reports, and a
few others like them, the only data available
regarding the presence of FIFO on a national scale is the population reports
extrapolated by the ABS from the analysis of 2006 census data.
A common theme, threaded through most of the evidence received by the
Committee, highlights the inaccuracy of the census data when measuring the use
of FIFO workforce arrangements and the presence of FIFO workers in regional and
Andrew Henderson, the Executive Director of the 2011 census stated that:
We would argue very strongly that the census was never
designed to measure a number of the things that people are trying to measure in
relation to fly-in, fly-out in the resource communities and we seriously doubt
whether it could be redesigned at purpose.
As the available data is inconclusive, a wide range of parties each
makes use of their own estimates of FIFO worker presence to support their
The lack of comprehensive nation-wide data, as well as the impact that
this lack of data is having on planning, funding and the formulation of policy,
will be explored throughout this report.
Labour shortages and conditions
The resource industry is often characterised by its high wages. Labour
shortages and high profitability has led to companies offering very attractive
wages to entice workers, skilled and unskilled, to be employed by their
As of February 2012, an employee in the resource industry earns, on
average, $2 269 per week; the highest average weekly earnings in any
industry. This is more than double the Australian average of $1 056 per
week; and more than four times the amount that an average employee in the
Accommodation and Food Services industry earns each week ($504 per week).
The resource sector’s workforce is predominantly male with only a small
percentage of women employed by the industry. However, the proportion of women
working in the resource sector has increased in recent years, growing from 11
per cent in 2001 to 15 per cent in 2011.
Many resource companies express a desire to increase the proportion of
women in their workforces and are attempting to combat the perception that the
resource industry is not suitable for female workers. Some resource companies
have introduced a range of policies to make work arrangements more flexible and
more attractive to women, including: compressed work hours, maternity leave and
Not only are there fewer women than men employed in the resource industry,
but those who are, earn considerably less. As of February 2012, a male employee
in the resource industry earns, on average, $2 405 per week. However, a
female employee in the resource industry earns, on average, $1 692 per
week, 70 per cent of the average male weekly earnings.
The National Council of Women identified a number of challenges for
women working in the resource industry. Interpersonal relationship stress and
family commitments are key inhibitors to working in the industry, and in
particular working under FIFO arrangements. Skills Australia
concurred, stating that:
working FIFO is considered generally incompatible with
starting a family and caring for young children and most women leave the
industry when they start a family.
These inhibitors and barriers are reflected in the types of positions in
which women are generally employed, with the majority of women working in
support roles in metropolitan and regional centres. Skills Australia stated
that women constitute only seven per cent of technical professionals and three
per cent of site-based workers.
Some of the larger resource companies are endeavouring to address this
by working with local government to try and facilitate childcare arrangements.
However, for many female workers, the difficulties and challenges remain a
significant barrier to working in the resource industry and utilising FIFO
The resource industry prides itself on the engagement, training and
employment of Indigenous Australians, with most resource companies having some
form of Indigenous employment program. The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA)
stated that, in most instances, resource companies will employ any local
Indigenous person with ‘job readiness attributes’.
According to the ABS, as of 2006, there are 2 491 Indigenous
Australians employed by the resource industry, 2.1 per cent of all employed
Indigenous Australians. This constitutes 2 per cent of the 2006 resource
workforce – double the average national per centage across all industries.
Although there is a higher per centage of Indigenous Australians working
in the resource industry than the national average, Indigenous employees earn,
on average, less than their non-Indigenous co-workers. According to the ABS, in
2001, Indigenous employees earned, on average, $993 per week, compared to the
average of $1 261 per week earned by non-Indigenous employees.
Some resource companies conduct pre-employment training for local
Indigenous jobseekers. This training equips workers with the necessary skills
for an entry level position in the resource industry, developing: English
language skills, literacy, numeracy, basic mining skills and time management
skills. Once jobseekers have attained the necessary level of skills they are
considered ‘job ready’ and are offered an entry-level position.
The success of training and employment programs for local Indigenous
jobseekers was noted by the NSW Government:
Many of the mines in Western NSW are located in communities
with relatively high levels of Indigenous unemployment and have demonstrated
positive effects. Cowal gold mine (West Wyalong), for example, has demonstrated
success in creating employment opportunities for local Aboriginal communities,
while in Cobar a job compact has been established for the local Aboriginal
However, the resource industry is not only employing Indigenous
Australians who live near mine sites; many Indigenous employees are working
under FIFO arrangements. The Northern Territory Government stated that:
The use of FIFO/DIDO work practices in mining operations
provides significant opportunities for the employment of Indigenous people in
remote communities in the NT.
Rio Tinto is the largest private-sector employee of Indigenous Australians.
Its workforce contains approximately 800 Indigenous employees, a number which
they intend to grow. Rio Tinto employs
Indigenous Australians under both locally-based and FIFO arrangements. Many of
the Indigenous employees who FIFO are sourced from regional centres, as shown
by Table 2.1.
Table 2.1 Origin and workplace of Rio Tinto’s regional
Indigenous FIFO employees in Western Australia
No. of Indigenous workers
Rio Tinto mines
West Angelas; Hope Downs
West Angelas; Hope Downs
Marandoo; Tom Price
Paraburdoo; Marandoo, Tom
Tinto, Submission 149, p. 17.
However, whilst FIFO arrangements may benefit some Indigenous
jobseekers, the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) highlighted
some key factors that can limit Indigenous participation in the resource sector
communities’ distance from primary FIFO hubs;
- inflexible employment
- camp accommodation
taking people away from country, support networks and family groups; and,
- social isolation.
CSRM also acknowledged the efforts made by some resource companies to
address these issues including:
- on-site and in-camp
- flexible recruitment
and retention practices;
- culturally sensitive
leave allocations; and,
Despite efforts currently being made to encourage and support Indigenous
FIFO employment in the resource industry, debate continues regarding the extent
to which FIFO workforce practices inhibits or supports Indigenous take-up of
employment and training opportunities in the resource sector.
A number of Indigenous communities in Canada have successfully engaged
with the resources industry by supplying camp management and staff and
negotiating seasonal employment rosters that also allow for cultural
As noted earlier, neither the exact number of employees who operate
under FIFO arrangements nor the number of locally-based employees are currently
available. Despite this lack of data, the AusIMM asserted that those workers
who live locally are earning, on average, considerably less than their FIFO
AusIMM conducted a survey in 2010 on Employment and Remuneration which
showed that there is a significant difference in the average income of those
employees working under FIFO arrangements compared to those employees who live
near regional and remote mines. AusIMM found that across all responsibility
levels, FIFO employees earn, on average, $8 600 more in salary alone
(maximum $15 000 and minimum $4 000).
The survey found that those employees living and working in capital
city-based offices were earning, on average, $13 000 more in salary
(maximum $45 000 and minimum $8 000) than those living and
working in regional centre offices.
No analysis or commentary was provided on these findings. However, one
possibility, which might account for the degree of disparity in wages between
local and FIFO workers, could be a result of AusIMM’s calculation of the
average wages. For example, if high level administrators and executives were
included in the calculation it might have skewed the results towards capital
cities where such positions are usually based.
A wide range of roster arrangements are utilised by the resources
industry. Rosters typically consist of a set number of days on-site and a set
number of days off-site, with an on-site day typically consisting of a
twelve-hour shift. Rosters, both shift-length and on/off cycles, are a key
issue which was repeatedly raised throughout the inquiry.
Shift patterns, or cycles as they are often called, can range from
short, nine days on five days off, cycles to the much longer, twenty-eight days
on seven days off, cycles. The typical length of a
roster cycle is usually linked to the distance that is needed to be travelled
to the mine-site, with DIDO arrangements generally using shorter roster patterns
than FIFO arrangements.
A survey conducted by the Australian Minerals and Mines Association
(AMMA) found that respondents were generally happy with their roster cycles,
which included: two weeks on two weeks off, eight days on six days off, six
weeks on six weeks off and five weeks on five weeks off.
Based on employee retention rates, the AusIMM observed that the roster
pattern with the lowest level of employee turnover is nine days on, five days
off. AusIMM also suggested that this might be due to this roster cycle granting
employees every second weekend off, providing them with greater opportunity to
engage with their family. Industry employers
Ensham and Vale, who both use a seven days on seven days off roster, stated
that their rosters were developed to prevent workforce fatigue and to grant
their employees time with their family.
The impact of 12-hour shifts will be explored in the following chapter.
As the construction phase and higher level of investment and production
in the resources sector continues, so too does the high demand for labour. The
resource industry’s need for labour, which is already greater than the labour
market is able to easily provide, is expected to continue to grow. Many
resource companies are utilising FIFO arrangements to source workers,
especially skilled workers, in the increasingly tight labour market.
A survey conducted by the AMMA found that, when asked if they expected
their FIFO workforces to grow:
- 74 per cent of
respondents expected growth in the next two years;
- 51 per cent of
respondents expected growth in the next five years;
- 42 per cent of
respondents expected growth in the next seven years;
- 43 per cent of
respondents expected growth in the next ten years;
- 22 per cent of
respondents expected no growth over the next ten years; and that,
- some companies
responded that they were unsure whether growth would occur.
When discussing workforce requirements, it is important to differentiate
between the requirements of the two main phases of resource projects:
construction and operational.
Construction workforces are, generally, large workforces which focus
heavily on one project in one area for a short period of time. The first three
to five years of a mine constitutes what is known as the construction or
start-up phase of the project. At the onset of a project, approximately
two-thirds of positions created will be temporary, with the remaining third
continuing once the mine site becomes operational.
Due to the short-term nature of these positions, construction workforces
are usually employed under FIFO arrangements. The MCA highlighted this as a
regular practice for all construction projects, both resource and
infrastructure-related, in regional, remote, and non-metropolitan areas of
Australia. Skills Australia also
supported the use of FIFO in these circumstances:
The lack of available services and infrastructure,
particularly in remote locations, prohibits the extended residence of
construction workers. As the construction phase ends, maintaining a population
of construction workers at one mine-site becomes redundant. A better use of
this workforce is to move it to a new location where construction is being
undertaken. FIFO, therefore, is the most practical option for this sector of
This view was also supported by proponents of resident-based workforces.
In Karratha, Regional Development Australia Pilbara stated that ‘during the
construction phase FIFO clearly has a logic to it’.
The Australian Pipeline Industry Association (APIA) highlighted the
practical and essential use of a FIFO construction workforce in its industry:
The location of the work on the project moves, and so does
the location of the accommodation. It is generally impractical for companies to
relocate project workers to a specific region or town and it is standard
practice for a pipeline project to transport stand-alone camps to service the
workers for the life of a project. This minimises the ‘on-site’ transport requirements
of the workforce, and also limits the impact a pipeline project workforce has
on local community infrastructure.
Whilst there is little contention regarding the use of FIFO workforce
arrangements during the construction phase of a project, the operational
workforce is a very different matter.
Operational workforces are, generally, smaller than construction
workforces and have a long-term involvement in a resource operation. This
workforce is usually employed by the project owner or a service contractor. The
operational phase, compared to the relatively short construction phase,
stretches out over the life of the mine and provides on‑going employment
The use of FIFO arrangements for positions in operational workforces has
drawn criticism from local communities. As Fiona White-Hartig, the President of
the Shire of Roebourne stated, ‘We want the operational workforce in our
However, recruitment agencies are finding it difficult to source local
labour. Chandler McLeod, a workforce advisory and recruitment agency:
noted that, in the first instance, mining and resource
companies prefer to engage with local workers where possible. However, this
pool is very quickly exhausted particularly in regard to skilled workers.
Skills Australia (Figure 2.3), predicted a steady increase in the
proportion of operational workforces utilising FIFO workforce practices.
This is not necessarily supported by figures provided by Rio Tinto Iron
Ore, which currently has 46 per cent of its Western Australian workforce on
FIFO arrangements and predicted this percentage to remain at this level as the
The shortage of labour, particularly skilled and experienced labour, is
a common justification for the use of FIFO workforce arrangements. The Chamber
of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CMEWA) stated that, ‘FIFO is a
critical element of maintaining a viable resources sector as the industry is
challenged by significant tightening of the labour market,’
a sentiment echoed by Rio Tinto and Skills Australia.
Any projections regarding the growth of FIFO workforce practices are
compromised by the lack of data regarding the current extent of the use of FIFO
workforce practices. Nonetheless, many submissions referred to projections of
increasing FIFO use in the resources sector, alongside an increase in
residential labour, albeit to a lesser extent, as noted in Figure 2.3.
2.3 Operations workforce growth predictions
Australia, Submission 102, p. 12.
In the absence of definitive national data regarding the current use of
FIFO workforce practices and projections, many submissions, including those
submitted by Skills Australia (see figure 2.3), referred to the CMEWA’s annual
State Growth Outlooks. 
Despite the frequency of citation, the CMEWA’s 2011 State Growth Outlook
does not provide much insight into the growth of FIFO workforce practices. The
report forecasts state labour requirements, predicting that the highest growth
regions are the Pilbara, Mid-West, and Perth/Peel regions, with the majority of
the additional workforce requirements being driven by projects in the Pilbara.
The report predicts that currently planned projects in the Pilbara will
require an additional 34 000 workers in 2012 in the region, reducing to
21 000 above the 2009 workforce by 2015 and that the Mid West region will
require an additional 7 500 workers by 2012. The report predicts that
incremental FIFO demand sourced from the Perth/Peel region will peak at
approximately 30 000 in 2012, remaining at 15 500 by 2015.
In addition to the State Growth Outlook, the CMEWA released the Pilbara
Population and Employment Study in November 2012.
The report utilised surveys to capture data at the level of individual projects
and used the results, in combination with ABS census data, to develop an
incremental growth profile for population and housing demand in the Pilbara.
In the absence of other data sources, almost any statistical information
and workforce predictions are valuable; however, the lack of accurate
nation-wide data regarding the current and projected use of FIFO workforce
practices should be of great concern to government and impact communities.
Workforce and population data
There is very little firm nation-wide data available on the use of FIFO
workforce arrangements in the resource industry. This lack of data makes it
difficult to properly establish the extent of the use of FIFO arrangements in
the resource industry and future workforce projections as well as the full
impact on communities in terms of consumption of town services (for example,
infrastructure such as roads, sewerage and water consumption).
The FIFO workforce is, in effect, a ‘shadow population’ – serviced by a
regional community without an equitable contribution to the local government’s
finances, either in terms of rate payments nor state or federal government
grants based on head of population.
The lack of data was raised consistently by stakeholders ranging from local
government to resource companies. All agreed that without
access to accurate, up-to-date information on the numbers of FIFO workers, the
impacts of the workforce cannot be adequately assessed or addressed.
Available data consists primarily of surveys conducted by private
organisations, state and local governments. This data does not
provide the necessary scope and national overview, instead, usually focusing on
a particular region or aspect of FIFO employment arrangements.
Local governments expressed concern that the estimation of FIFO
workforce numbers is deliberately and unrealistically low. The Pilbara Shire
Council stated that:
State and resource industry FIFO workforce projections for
the Pilbara, for up until 2020 are unrealistically low and fail to reflect the
existing level of FIFO activity in the region.
The Shire of Ashburton raised similar concerns, stating that:
Existing planning, for the impact of FIFO workforces, by the
State Government and the resource industry is severely compromised by grossly
inaccurate Australia Bureau of Statistics population data, which underestimates
the permanent population in the region by approximately 20 per cent.
The concerns of local governments were shared by the resource industry.
The MCA stated:
One of the greatest unknowns related to FIFO is accurate data
on the quantum of workers involved nationally across all industries where they
originate from and where they work. Until we have this data it is not possible
for any sensible policy response to be developed.
The Queensland Government produced perhaps the most comprehensive data on
the use of FIFO workforce. However, the data does
not seem to be widely known or utilised. Community organisations suggested that
data was non-existent or inaccurate:
I think it has a lot to do with the funding from the state
and getting the figures right. They say, 'We did a census and there are
1 500 people in Dysart.' That is not an accurate number, because, at any
given time, there could be 4 000 or 5 000 people there. The cost to
our local government and to the community, with our infrastructure failing,
means it is not worth arguing over a few numbers. If they could acknowledge
that, yes, this itinerant population does exist and they do use the roads and
infrastructure, and give the funding accordingly, then I think it could be a
whole lot better.
The lack of available data has been a significant challenge to this
inquiry. Given the mobility of the FIFO workforce, comprehensive, national,
data on the extent of the FIFO workforce is essential if any policy initiatives
are to be developed to address the issue.
Population-based funding for services
Population estimates published by the ABS are used as a basis for the
allocation of resources and funding. Thus, inaccurate population data, which
underestimates the number of people using services, can result in the
underfunding of services in resource communities.
The importance of accurate population estimates to ensure adequate
funding for services in resource communities was raised by local government and
community organisations. The Regional Social
Development Centre (RSDC) stated that:
[There] is not a fair measure of the population of mining
communities, the actual burden on their services and infrastructure, and the
increased government funding required to support influxes of FIFO workers.
The Queensland Government also highlighted the difficulty that a lack of
data presents when planning for the provision of government services and
The lack of nationally consistent data to enable accurate
quantification of the FIFO population makes it difficult to plan for government
services (e.g. health), the establishment of which can have a long lead in
time. In addition, the fluctuation in workforce size associated with different
project stages (e.g. construction versus operation) requires the development of
a flexible model of service provision that can accommodate peaks but do not
invest in services and infrastructure that are not required in the long term.
Funding for services and infrastructure is commonly allocated, by state
and federal governments to local governments based on the residential
population of a local government area. This practice, whilst suitable for
communities with largely static residential populations, does not take into
account the large non-resident population of many resource communities.
Financial Assistance Grants and the Regional and Local Community
Financial Assistance Grants are provided to local governments under the Local
Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995. The grant consists of a general
purpose component which is distributed on a per capita basis between the states
and territories as well as an identified local road component which is
distributed between states and territories according to fixed historical
shares. The grants are paid in quarterly instalments to state and territory
governments for immediate distribution to local governments.
The Regional and Local Community Infrastructure program is an initiative
under the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan,
which provides funding for local government authorities to build and modernise
community infrastructure. Under round three of the initiative (June 2010):
- all councils received
a base grant of $30 000;
- councils classified
as ‘urban fringe’ or ‘urban regional’ and who have at least 30 000 residents
received an additional growth component of $150 000; and
- all councils with at
least 5 000 residents shared in the distribution of the remaining funds in
proportion to their 2009/10 general purpose Financial Assistance Grant.
Many resource communities received more than the base grant of
$30 000 under round three of the program. For example, the Shire of East
Pilbara was granted $217 000, the Town of Port Hedland was granted
$150 000. In Queensland, the Isaac Regional Council was granted
$314 000 and the Mackay Regional Council was granted $434 000 and in
New South Wales, the Narrabri Shire Council was granted $226 000.
The allocation of funding for both of these programs is directly
connected to the residential population of a local government area. Resource
communities, whose residential populations are dwindling whilst their
non-resident populations continue to increase, are placed at a significant
disadvantage under these funding structures.
Troy Pickard, President of the WALGA, stated:
The primary objective of FAGs [Financial Assistance Grants]
are to improve the capacity of local government to provide their residents with
an equitable level of service, improve the financial capacity of local
government to provide certainty of funding, and improve the efficiency and
effectiveness of local government. At present the Australia government annually
adjusts the quantum of [Financial Assistance Grants] using an escalation factor
based on inflation and population growth. While important, these factors do not
accommodate the quantum of growth generated in many of Western Australia’s
local governments by the resources boom in the past decade.
In order to equitably allocate funding, both the residential and service
populations of communities need to be considered. However, without accurate
population estimates, the equitable distribution of any population–based
funding is compromised.
Population data projects
Because there is such variation in the reliability of population data,
some local governments in resource regions, such as those in the Pilbara, have
undertaken detailed research to inform their planning, as evidenced by the
Pilbara Regional Planning Committee’s planning and infrastructure framework.
Work is being undertaken in Queensland by the QOESR which has
established the Resource Communities Research Program to investigate and
quantify the population, workforce and accommodation impacts of resource
development in Queensland. The program focuses on population data collection,
population projections and the monitoring of resident and non-resident (FIFO)
populations as well as the subsequent impacts on resource communities. QOESR
has recently published population reports on the Bowen Basin and the Surat
The comprehensive 2011 report on the Bowen and Galilee Basins found
- one in five people
living in the Bowen Basin in July 2011 was a FIFO worker;
- the Bowen Basin’s
full-time equivalent population grew by 7 220 (or seven per cent) between
2010 and 2011;
- the Isaac region
contained around two-thirds of the Bowen Basin’s non-resident population in
- the full time
equivalent (FTE) population of the Isaac region is now approaching that for the
Central Highlands region and is expected to outgrow the Central Highlands in
2012 due to the strong growth in its non-resident population;
- over 29 310
workers (54 per cent were contractors and 46 per cent were company employees)
were engaged in mining operations across the Bowen Basin in July 2011;
- fewer than half (43
per cent) of all mining operations workers in the Bowen Basin were residents of
the same local government area where they worked in July 2011;
- the capacity of
worker accommodation villages in the Bowen Basin expanded rapidly (by 28 per
cent) in 2010/11;
- worker accommodation
villages housed 86 per cent of all non-resident workers in the Bowen Basin in
- the FTE population of
the Bowen Basin is projected to reach 128 550 by 2018, comprising
101 790 residents (79 per cent) and 26 760 non-resident workers
on-shift (21 per cent).
Despite the detailed work being undertaken by this state government
agency, anecdotal evidence to this inquiry indicated that resource regions are
completely unaware of this data, with a number of local governments reporting
that they have also been conducting population data projects, in some cases
resorting to going door to door to collect accurate population data.
In the Pilbara, the AECgroup was commissioned by the Pilbara
Regional Council to prepare an economic impact assessment of the Pilbara FIFO
workforce. The report estimated that 56.1 per cent of the workforce is
accommodated at remote sites. Table 2.2 outlines the population data gathered
by the report showing the overwhelming FIFO workforce in some areas.
Table 2.2 Workforce accommodation in the Pilbara region
Local Government Area
Workforce located at remote
sites (site camps)
Workforce located in
communities (town camps, town accommodation and residential)
Total workforce in resource
Shire of Roebourne
Town of Port Hedland
Shire of Ashburton
Shire of East Pilbara
Regional Council, Supplementary Submission 43.1, p. 6.
The data projects undertaken by QOESR and the AECgroup provide
valuable insights into FIFO workforce practices in their respective regions.
However, there remains no nation-wide empirical data regarding the FIFO
Other than private surveys and research projects, the only Australia-wide
data available regarding the presence of FIFO workers in a community is
extrapolated by the ABS from the national census. However, the ABS is not able
to accurately pinpoint the FIFO versus local resident workforce population
because the census is not designed to accurately collect FIFO workforce data.
When analysing the data obtained from the national census to determine
the population of a town or region, the ABS considers three forms of
population: resident population, working population and service population.
A resident population is the population usually living in a particular
town, city, region or state. There are three questions on the census used to
determine the resident population, which ask:
- where the person
- where the person
usually lived one year ago; and
- where the person
usually lived five years ago.
The 2011 census form defined questions relating to where a person
usually lives as, ‘that address at which the person has lived or intends to
live for a total of six months or more in 2011’.
Most Australians have one home and are easily able to answer questions about
where they usually live. However, for a FIFO worker the answer is not as
The ABS is currently exploring the feasibility of a question relating to
a second residence for the next census in order to attempt to capture this lost
data, however, at present there is no incentive, nor obligation, for FIFO
workers to give any indication on the census form that they may reside in
resource communities for significant proportions of the year.
The estimated resident population is used to decide electoral
distribution for local, state and federal elections as well as being used to
measure funding for essential services such as health, public housing,
education and infrastructure.
Funding allocations that are based on the estimated residential
population, which does not take into full account the number of people working
in a town and utilising its services, will result in underfunded services for
both the residents of resource communities and the visiting FIFO workers.
In addition to resident population, the census gathers information about
the working population of a region. The working population is determined by the
workplace address for the main job held in the week prior to the census night.
Working population data, when analysed in conjunction with resident
population, can be used to estimate the number of people who work in a resource
community, but who do not live there.
However, as with residential population data, the accuracy of this data
is reliant on the location that FIFO workers choose to list as their workplace
address. Contractors and workers, who travel from site to site, may choose to
list the contracting company’s headquarters. Similarly, FIFO workers, even
those based at a single mine site, may choose to list their employer’s head
office address instead of the address of the mine itself.
Official population estimates prepared by the ABS distinguish between a
region’s resident population and service population. Many Australian
communities host large non-residential populations, such as tourist
destinations, agricultural areas at harvest time, and resource regions. The
service population takes both the residential and non-residential populations
The service population is the number of people who use services (that
is, water, roads, medical services, garbage collection, etc.) in a region. FIFO
workers, therefore, would be considered part of a resource community’s service
population, even if they are not counted as part of the residential population.
The Pilbara Regional Council highlighted the importance of this data by,
outlining the strain placed on services accessed by both residential and FIFO
Community services such as GPs, emergency rooms, ambulances,
hospitals, pharmacies, nursing services, dentists and police confront
significantly increased levels of demand as FIFO workers are as likely to use
their services as local residents.
However, the service population, especially in areas such as resource
regions, can be difficult to accurately estimate. The ABS has investigated a
number of ways to provide better estimates of service populations, including:
testing new census questions, using supermarket sales data and extrapolations
based on the number of community resources such as ATMs.
In 1999, the ABS conducted a pilot study to assess the feasibility of
producing service population estimates for selected local government areas,
which incorporated a case study of FIFO workers in the Shire of Wiluna, Western
Australia. The case study found that:
The fairly low propensity of fly-in/fly-out workers to report
the LGA in which they work as their usual residence means that Census counts
based on place of enumeration [where the form was completed], rather than place
of usual residence, are probably a better basis on which to estimate the total
service population of the LGA.
The case study also suggested the use of other sources of information on
FIFO presence, such as accident reporting data, to establish accurate estimates
of service population in resource regions. The ABS stated that:
Viable methods of estimating the fly-in fly-out mining
workforce have been produced using a variety of ABS data, such as building
approvals, tourist accommodation and labour force estimates and other
administrative data with the census.
However, despite the efforts of the ABS, accurate data regarding the use
of FIFO workforce arrangements, as well as data regarding the presence of FIFO
workers in regional communities is not widely available, and where available,
is not well communicated.
This lack of data impacts on the ability of all levels of government to
plan and fund services in regional communities.
Challenges in data collection
The ABS acknowledged the importance of accurate population data:
Regions need information about resident and service
populations to plan for the opportunities and demands of industries using FIFO
practices, and to monitor the impacts of these practices on communities and
workers in the region. Without adequate data, regions will be unable to
anticipate demand for infrastructure and amenities (such as housing, health and
The ABS identified three key challenges in regards to measuring FIFO
- the complexity of
measuring different population groups;
- the breadth of
subjects about which information is required; and
- the geographic
concentration of communities affected by FIFO work practices.
Patrick Corr, Director of Demography at the ABS also noted the inherent
difficulty in recording FIFO worker numbers:
The challenge we have had is that very few people who are in
a fly-in fly-out place leave a breadcrumb behind of their address. They do not
change their Medicare address; they do not update their driver’s license; and
they do not change their electoral enrolment, so you do not see them on your
electoral roll. So there is no place – other than going back and recounting
people every time – where there is a record.
The ABS noted that, due to the complexities involved in measuring
transient service populations in resource regions, they are not able to produce
comprehensive service population estimates for resource regions with their
Australian Bureau of Statistics proposed scope of data development
The ABS identified four crucial statistical developments that are needed
to enable the accurate collection of FIFO-related data:
the concept of residence to include ‘second residence’ and improve the quality
of resident population counts.
service population estimates for host regions (counts of FIFO workers and other
service populations in the regions).
estimates of internal migration (resident population flows between regions).
projections of resident and service population for regions.
The ABS asserted that there is significant, but unexploited, potential
in data collections which provide data at a regional level. If appropriately
resourced, regional data experts could work together with government and other
analysts to support robust regional analysis. The ABS stated that it:
could provide additional analysis on the social, economic,
and demographic characteristic of regions impacted by FIFO and, in turn,
guidance for other data users to more effectively report on the outcomes of
FIFO work at both the personal and community level. For example, the ABS is
able to produce small area data for educational qualifications and rates of
volunteering, to list some of the potential indicators of community wellbeing.
ABS stated that providing the necessary measurement and analysis
required to develop and publish accurate population data in FIFO communities is
beyond the capacity of their current work program. However, the ABS expressed
its confidence that:
With appropriate resources, the ABS, with its data collection
infrastructure and ability to integrate new data and methods with existing
economic and social datasets, is well positioned to meet this need.
There are significant difficulties associated with collecting data in
remote and regional communities, as well as challenges to capturing accurate
and up-to-date information on FIFO workers. However, this information is essential
to addressing any impacts that FIFO is having on regional and remote
The lack of publicly available, accurate, nationally consistent
information on a FIFO workforce, both across the resource sector and in
individual communities and towns, is unacceptable and must be remedied. Governments
at all levels and industry must share responsibility for the failure to grasp
the scope of the use of FIFO and its impact on communities.
The Committee acknowledges that, during the conduct of this inquiry, the
Minerals Council of Australia commissioned a study on the changing demographic
profile of resource communities and commends it for finally meeting the
sector’s responsibility in this regard. Unfortunately this data was not
available to the Committee in time for an adequate analysis to be utilised in
The states are responsible for mine approvals and therefore should have
a reasonably accurate picture of the intended use of FIFO workforce practices.
However, given the movement of people across the country, both resource and
feeder communities need an accurate picture of population movements in order to
plan essential services, there is a need to collect this data at a national
The Committee considers that the ABS, in consultation with the states,
is best suited to collect, collate and publish information regarding FIFO
In addition, the allocation of funding for services and infrastructure
should also take into consideration both the resident and service populations
of a region so as to ensure that resource communities are allocated sufficient
funding to service both local residents and FIFO workers.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government
fund the Australian Bureau of Statistics to establish a cross-jurisdictional
working group to develop and implement a method for the accurate measurement
extent of fly-in, fly-out/drive-in, drive-out workforce practices in the
resource sector; and
populations of resource communities.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government,
in consultation with state and territory governments, review allocation of
funding for communities that receive fly-in, fly-out/drive-in, drive-out workforces
so that funding is based on both resident and service populations.