Study shows FIFO workforce brings benefits and pressures

A NEW study has revealed the mining boom has brought considerable wealth throughout Australia, but the benefits are not being distributed evenly, even in the communities most affected by it.

This is a key finding of a new study of the fly-in/out phenomenon released today by the CRC for Remote Economic Participation and Ninti One.

The study, by Professor Fiona McKenzie, leader of CRC-REP's Enduring Community Value from Mining research project, and Dr Aileen Hoath of Curtin University, says the boom in long distance commuting has opportunities and challenges for the communities most affected by it.

"Most Australian mining activities are in remote places where demand for labour usually exceeds local supply, requiring a long-distance commuting workforce from source communities," Prof McKenzie said.

"These labour force arrangement include fly-in/fly-out, drive-in/drive-out or bus-in/bus-out.

"Previous studies have focused on the impact of long-distance commuting on host communities where the mine is located.

"This is the first major study to investigate what happens to the communities who supply the remote workforce."

The research focused on two source communities in regional Western Australia: Mandurah and Busselton.

These all point to a need to better manage growth pressures through a shared engagement by all spheres of government, the community and industry.

"As a rule, a lot more money flows into the community as a result of well-paid work in the mines - but not a lot of it stays there. One finding is that source communities have failed to capture the full benefits of the opportunity," Prof McKenzie said.

"There is also concern about the widening gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', and the pressures placed on local infrastructure due to population growth, which local government authorities, in particular, struggle to resource.

"These all point to a need to better manage growth pressures through a shared engagement by all spheres of government, the community and industry."

Prof McKenzie said one of the risks was that source communities could become victims of the classic mining boom/bust cycle by depending too narrowly on their commuting workforce.

"A reasonable proportion of disposable income circulates locally, but we also found a fair bit of 'leakage', with people spending or investing much of their wealth elsewhere," she said.

Another issue facing commuting workers was not being able to access local services at the same times as residents in the community because of the mismatch between the nature of their work arrangements and traditional service delivery models.

"Long-distance commuting does not necessarily cause problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, marital break-down, domestic violence, child behaviour issues, but it has a propensity to exacerbate pre-existing issues," the professor said.

"We found that most individuals and families who make the choice cope well. However, some people dislike aspects of the workplace or lifestyle but are trapped by their heavy financial commitments."

A summary of the report "The Socio-Economic Impacts of Long-Distance Commuiting on Source Communities" is available here.

The full report is available here.

Topics:  fifo mining mining boom resources

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