The phenomenon of the fly-in/fly-out worker has been a growing trend in Australia for the lasts 10 years or so. With the massive expansion of mining in many remote areas, Australians have shown a preference not to live in the areas that the mining is actually happening, but to live in metropolitan areas and fly in for a shift lasting 1-2 weeks, then fly home again at the end. The building industry in these areas has struggled to build enough houses for those who do want to live there, so large temporary accommodation centres have sprung up to house the workers who don’t live there permanently, but maintain their home and family somewhere else. But how big is this phenomenon? Fortunately Census can shed some light, and economy.id and profile.id give plenty of info on this.
Firstly we need to clear up a few things.
1. Census doesn’t record “plane” or “helicopter” as a method of travel to work. They would get put under “other”. So technically you can’t tell whether people flew to work. In any case, as most people working in mining and construction would be staying near their place of work for a week or two at a time, chances are on Census day they actually took a bus or truck to work.
2. The ABS had an official advice to workers in mining camps that if they are there for at least 6 months over the year, they should record it as their usual address. Identifying FIFO workers involves comparing the residential location to the work location, and if these are the same, this information is lost. So it is likely that what’s recorded in the Census is an undercount (but then this is true for all work destination information). However anecdotal evidence is that a majority of mining workers chose to ignore this advice anyway and wrote their usual address as the one where they had a permanent home.
There are two sides to FIFO – the area of the residence, and the area of work. To identify FIFO we need to pull out known mining areas. A lot of these are in Western Australia, such as Roebourne, East Pilbara, Meekatharra, Laverton, Port Headland, and Ashburton. In Queensland, Isaac and Central Highlands are two of the main areas. Where these councils have profile.id, it is easy to see what proportion of their workforce came from a long distance to work there. In economy.id, you can restrict it to just those in the mining industry, and this is more useful for the origin LGAs, which have the majority of their workforce employed in other industries locally.
For instance, let’s take a look at Ashburton. In their workers place of residence link, you can see that Census recorded 10,381 workers with a workplace in Ashburton Shire. This is a remote area and only had a population of 10,500 in 2011, so, similar to a central city area, it’s a net importer of workers.
The maps shows where they are coming from. In 2011, 51.4%, more than half of all Ashburton workers lived outside the area. In a remote region like this, this pretty much means they’re flying in (it would be a 3 hour commute just to drive to the border of Ashburton Shire!). After Ashburton itself, the next largest sources of workers are Rockingham, Swan, Mandurah, Wanneroo and Gosnells, all outer suburban areas of Perth. There are no huge numbers from any one area, but in total, 33.3% of Ashburton’s workforce (about 3,300 people) commuted from metropolitan Perth – with the rest being from regional WA or no usual address. Also note that it’s contained within WA. No interstate place made the list for Ashburton, in contributing more than 10 people to its workforce.
It’s a similar story in many other mining areas in Western Australia. Roebourne Shire only has 35% of its workforce commuting long distance but this is over 5,000 pe0ple due to larger workforce size. Importing this many people from long distance to work rather than having them in the community must have a huge impact on service provision in the area.
In Queensland, Central Highlands and Isaac Shires have some FIFO workers, but it’s harder to separate them from those who commute regularly from relatively nearby Rockhampton and Mackay (and may well drive rather than fly). Here is the map for Central Highlands.
So FIFO obviously has a big impact on the mining areas which attract people from all over the state to work there. But what about the areas which contribute workers?
This chart shows the number of workers from each Perth LGA who work in 6 major mining LGAs (Roebourne, East Pilbara, Port Headland Ashburton, Leonora, Laverton, Meekatharra) – there are other areas with mining but these constitute the bulk of FIFO.
|Perth LGAs||Total FIFO to 7 mining LGAs||Total Employed Residents||% of employed residents FIFO to mining areas|
|East Fremantle (T)||45||3,565||1.3%|
|Mosman Park (T)||36||4,125||0.9%|
|Peppermint Grove (S)||–||605||0.0%|
|South Perth (C)||255||21,333||1.2%|
|Victoria Park (T)||263||16,769||1.6%|
|Total Metropolitan Perth||14,435||850,719||1.7%|
The LGA with the largest number of workers flying to these mining areas is Wanneroo, with 1,518 people, or 2.1% of total employed residents. While this is a big impact on the mining areas, it’s not a big impact on Wanneroo, where it makes up only 2% of all the employed residents. Even if you combined all the mining destinations as one, it would only be the 10th largest work destination for Wanneroo residents.
Interestingly, the two LGAs contributing the largest share of their own residents to these mining areas are Mandurah (3.8%) and Murray (3.3%). And these are the areas furthest from the airport. The other big ones are large outer suburban LGAs, such as Wanneroo, Joondalup and Rockingham.
Though incomes in mining are high, very few FIFO miners live in the wealthy western suburbs such as Claremont and Cottesloe. I suspect this imbalance is partly due to the high number of people with trade qualifications in these outer suburbs (which are more relevant to on-site mining than university qualifications), and also perhaps the lack of access to the central Perth job market in the outer suburbs – if you’re going to commute a long way to the city anyway, why not FIFO? The large number in the Peel region is a mystery to me though, perhaps one of our readers can shed light on it?
Areas very close to the airport, such as Belmont and Kalamunda, would be expected to have a high percentage of FIFO, but in fact they are close to the Perth average.
So, overall, FIFO is a major trend in Western Australia, with a big impact on the mining communities there. While the overall numbers leaving Perth are large, they still make up a relatively insignificant part of the total employment of Perth residents. In Western Australia overall, mining makes up only 7.2% of the employment, but 37% of the value-added (economic contribution). So while it’s the single most important industry to the state, from a demographic perspective, it only has a big impact on the remote communities, not on the state overall.
And don’t forget the LGA with the most employment in the mining industry – The City of Perth, where the head offices of many mining companies are located!
profile.id and economy.id can help you understand your mining industry and FIFO workers in more detail. Don’t have profile.id in your area? Or have profile.id but want to find out more about economy.id? Give us a call at .id!