Having been in the FIFO game for the last 6 years, working away from home has become part of my “normal”. Even to the extent that when I am home on R&R I am asked “so when do you fly home?” It’s a sad state of affairs really. But before my time as a FIFO worker, I used to travel away from home quite a bit for work; often for extended periods to all parts of Australia.
With the continually growing FIFO, DIDO, BIBO, FIBO (and other 4-letter acronyms people seem to keep applying) workforces, most of the attention around the ups and downs of working away has been concentrated on the resources sector. But working away from home spreads far beyond the Mining or Oil and Gas industries we hear so much about.
When I was searching for a solution to the problems I outlined in my first blog, I found a number of possibilities that partially addressed some of the issues, but no holistic answer.
In layman’s terms, ‘FIFO’ workers are on a set rotation and work in the resources sector: Hi-Vis shirts, Qantas Club and all that. But are these FIFO workers the only ones who are exposed to the effects of working away? Of course not. By definition, if you travel away to work, you work away!
So, what effects am I referring to?
Well, if you read any FIFO article, book or website, they all talk about the following adverse effects of the FIFO Life:
- Missing your family and friends – feeling disconnected
- Higher levels of stress and anxiety
- Simple and limited accommodation and facilities
- Issues with availability and variety of food
- Long working days
- Limited ability to stay in shape/fit due to working hour;
- Possible drug / alcohol issues
- And many many more!
All of the above are definite and tangible problems that most FIFO workers are faced with, directly or indirectly, and will be explored in future blog posts. But isn’t the same true for non-FIFO workers who travel away to work? Let’s spend some time exploring the spectrum of workers facing the challenges of working away…. And possibly revisit the definition of FIFO.
FIFO, but not FIFO…. Or is it not FIFO, but FIFO?
Most websites and publications promote the perception that FIFO (insert all other acronyms here) workers are the Blue Collar staff. They travel long distances on a regular rotation. They work on mine sites and large resources projects. I think this perception is largely driven by the media coverage of airports full of Hi-Vis and mine site photos that accompany many FIFO articles.
Take my current position for example.
Am I a FIFO Worker?
I am a white-collar worker on one of the world’s largest resources projects. I work a set rotation and fly a very long way to come to work. I wear Hi-Vis, work 12-14 hours a day and live in an accommodation camp at night. For all intents and purposes, I am a FIFO worker.
When asked what industry I work in, I can also respond with Construction or Commissioning or Oil and Gas, and all would be accurate.
But what about the guy who travels to site when required, from an equipment vendor to perform specialist work? He is construction, commissioning and Oil and Gas. Does this mean he doesn’t face the same issues?
Is he a FIFO Worker?
Another example would be those workers who directly support the resources industry. A very close friend of mine works in training and competency. He works across sectors from Oil and Gas, Electrical Distribution and Heavy Industry. He often travels away from his family for weeks at a time on no set rotation or schedule.
Is he a FIFO Worker?
What about the consultants or ‘resultants’ as some like to be called? I know one who travels overseas, regularly, to his office in Asia. Generally he does 10 days away and 4 days at home but this is flexible depending on plans he may have with his wife.
Is he a FIFO Worker?
I spend a lot of time flying and like to chat to the air hostesses about their rosters. There is not much else to chat about on the red eyes and it always makes for interesting conversation. The crews on these aircrafts do such a great job and also spend much time away from home.
Two, three, or up to seven nights at a time in towns across the country while their partners, kids and pets stay at home. A different bed every night and living out of a small suit case half of the month.
Are they FIFO Workers?
Or the interstate truck driver who spends long hours on the road, sleeps in his cabin and does so on long round trips to move much needed goods around our country.
Are they FIFO (or DIDO) Workers?
Other examples from my network of friends and colleagues are:
- The father of two who travels works in remote Indigenous Communities three weeks a month as a boilermaker.
- The husband who travels to far and remote locations for unspecified time frames to make a living as a pearl diver.
- The deck hand on an offshore Salmon boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
- The father of four who leaves his home in Switzerland, travels overland by train, flies internationally and then boards a helicopter to a drill rig ring off the coast of Brazil.
- The military man who travels off for exercises in the far north, seldomly contactable to his three kids, wife and parents.
Are they FIFO workers?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines a FIFO worker as ‘someone whose place of work is sufficiently isolated from the worker’s place of residence to make daily commute impractical’.
By this definition, the answer to all the above is a resounding Yes!
They all travel for extended periods to make a living and sleep in different beds; often each night. They work long hours, miss their family and friends, and most of all, they experience a lot of the same stress, worry and anxiety as those that are usually classified as ‘FIFO’.
The new ‘FIFO Worker’ image. PHOTO CREDIT: The West Australian
I guess my point here is this: there is so much air time and visibility given to the stresses and negative effects of the Australian resources FIFO industry, that all the other members of the community who sacrifice equally and share similar experiences are somewhat forgotten about.
That’s what really stood out to me when looking to develop One Minute Closer. It’s not just set rotation workers that will benefit from this App. It is also those who don’t have set rosters, do adhoc travel, have extended trips, travel to remote places to work.
All people who work away need to feel more connected to home.
Maybe it is time to start expanding the widely held interpretation of the FIFO worker to include all who can benefit from current FIFO initiatives? Or maybe it is time to coin a new term (yes another 4 letter acronym) to include all works who travel away to make a living…Travel Away Travel Home (TATH) Workers.
What are your thoughts?
Until the next entry, keep safe and stay connected!