Fly-in fly-out workforce practices in Australia: The effects on children and family relationships

CFCA Paper No. 19 – February 2014

Introduction

The mining boom in Australia has led to a rapid increase in a fly-in fly-out/drive-in drive-out (FIFO/DIDO) workforce in recent years. The increase in such work arrangements has resulted in corresponding concerns for the impact that the associated lifestyle has on these workers and their families.

In 2011, FIFO/DIDO workforce practices in regional Australia became the subject of an inquiry by the Commonwealth House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia (the Inquiry; Commonwealth of Australia, 2013). The Inquiry report, published in February 2013, highlighted the limitations of existing research on FIFO/DIDO work practices, as well as reflecting the considerable anecdotal evidence presented regarding the FIFO/DIDO lifestyle and its effects on families and communities.

The report alluded to the "two faces" of FIFO/DIDO work. FIFO/DIDO work practices impact on workers and their families as well as the "host" and "source" communities1 from which they work and reside. Stories in the Inquiry report ranged from a decrease in service delivery (e.g., availability of doctors) for residents in established communities close to FIFO/DIDO workplaces, through to the benefits of access to the wealth of the mining industry for FIFO/DIDO families from source communities, without having to uproot from established education paths and social networks. The report outlines these and many different issues that need attention as a result of a rapidly growing FIFO/DIDO workforce.

This paper summarises the emerging literature on the effect on children and family relationships of having a FIFO/DIDOparent. Research to date suggests that there can potentially be positive, negative or few impacts for children and family relationships, which reflects the enormous diversity of the FIFO/DIDO lifestyle and its characteristics. Impacts vary according to a range of contextual factors, such as workplace culture, types of rosters and recruitment practices as well as community, home and personal factors. Implications for policy, research and practice are outlined in response to the findings of the literature review.

The main section of this paper is split into three parts. Definitions, workforce profile and other background factors are discussed first. The second part of the paper discusses a number of contextual factors that are likely to impact on the FIFO/DIDO experience for workers and their families. The third part summarises the findings from the literature in relation to impacts of a FIFO/DIDO lifestyle on children and families. The combined sections highlight the considerable diversity of FIFO/DIDO work experiences for families, and the various ways in which they navigate through and deal with these experiences.

As there has been little research that focuses specifically on DIDO work practices, FIFO experiences are the main focus of this paper. The terms FIFO/DIDO or DIDO will be used where the research or literature was also relevant to DIDO.

Footnote

1 "Host" communities refer to the communities nearest to the FIFO worksite. "Source" communities are the originating communities from where workers come - their place of residence where families still reside.