The mining sector has responded angrily to suggestions fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workforces are a “cancer” on country towns, saying it’s a personal choice that suits some people.
A federal parliamentary inquiry has found the practice has a negative impact on some regional towns, including sending the cost of housing through the roof and dislocating families.
The report also recommended a review of fringe benefits tax arrangements for FIFO workers.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CMEWA) urged wariness towards the suggestions, saying they could have unintended detrimental consequences on industry and communities.
Some 55 per cent of WA’s 120,000 resources sector workers were employed on FIFO rosters and the long-established practice was expected to grow in coming years, CMEWA said.
Chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said recommendations that added to the cost of doing business should be ignored because they would only add to other imposts that had turned the resources sector’s attention to other lower cost nations.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke said the report “should be treated with a deal of scepticism”, vowing to strongly oppose any changes to the tax treatment of FIFO.
Likening the practice to cancer would be offensive to FIFO workers, without whom some mines would not have enough staff to operate, Mr Hooke said.
“Mining and FIFO is not hollowing out the regions in which it operates. It is boosting incomes, attracting families and reducing unemployment,” he said.
Some workers were moving to the regions permanently, he said, citing a KPMG study showed the population of Australia’s mining regions had grown at 1.5 per cent per year in the five years to 2011, compared to 0.8 per cent for regional Australia more generally.
Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said FIFO and drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) working arrangements were as much driven by employee lifestyle choices as by resource companies’ operational requirements.
Mr Knott also agreed with CMEWA that labour mobility was increasingly important for Australia’s resource industry to compete on a global scale.
WA Premier Colin Barnett said FIFO would always be a part of the WA workforce because there would always be mines in isolated locations.
Communications Electrical Plumbing Union assistant national secretary Allen Hicks said FIFO may be essential during the labour-intensive construction phase, but the lives of these workers and their families were highly disrupted, so a better balance needed be struck.