McGowan Government under fire over FIFO suicides
Summary: THE McGowan Government has come under fire from union officials and fly-in, fly-out families for “not going far enough” to protect workers’ mental health as suicides continue unabated.....
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and FIFO parents said a draft code of practice — drawn-up to “help promote and maintain the mental health” of workers — failed to tackle the “big issues” needed to improve work and living conditions.
The criticism comes as the suicide of an Inpex worker in the Northern Territory this week rocked the nation’s FIFO community. The death led to fresh claims in WA that conditions for workers have worsened since the 2014-2015 parliamentary inquiry into the impact of FIFO on mental health.
It also comes as researchers at the University of Western Australia undertake a $500,000 study into FIFO mental health. Funded by the Mental Health Commission, it is one of Australia’s biggest studies of its kind.
Researchers are surveying more than 3000 FIFO workers, as well as interviewing families to determine the “pressure points” contributing to mental health issues in remote mining areas. The research and draft code of practice were both recommendations of the report in June 2015 which stemmed from the parliamentary inquiry.
Peter Miller, father of a FIFO worker Rhys Connor who took his life almost five years ago, said “hardly anything has changed — if anything, it’s worse”.
“Companies talk about ‘zero harm’ on their sites, yet we have FIFO workers dying. Every couple of weeks you hear of a different death, it’s continuing,” Mr Miller said.
He said workers were getting paid as low as $33 an hour and were not paid to travel long distances to sites. “It’s just gone downhill, there’s been an erosion of work conditions,” he added.
Mr Miller and AMWU assistant State secretary Glenn McLaren called on the Government to force the industry to ensure “workplace incidents” included suicides and attempts at accommodation camps, not just mine sites. They said this would ensure proper workplace investigations and that the industry took more responsibility.
Mr McLaren said the draft code of practice also failed to include restrictions of long shift swings, such as four weeks on, one week off.
Mr McLaren said placing workers in different rooms each swing, dubbed “motelling”, should be minimised or abolished. He said restricting workers from frequent engagement with local communities should also be stopped.
These were all issues raised in the 42 findings and 30 recommendations of the June 2015 report. He said though the McGowan Government had “worked hard” to progress the draft code of practice, “it doesn’t go far enough”.
“I’m concerned the code of practice doesn’t address these issues and may just be glossed over or be given lip service by the industry,” Mr McLaren said.
Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said his first priority when Labor came to power was to progress the draft code of practice.
The minister said people had until April 19 to make a submission if they felt the draft code of practice, prepared by the Mining Industry Advisory Committee, was “not complete”.
“I have not endorsed the code and I want everyone in the community to say how it can be improved before it’s finalised,” he said.
UWA researcher Dr Laura Fruhen said the FIFO study would “generate good insights that can inform support for communities and also employers and government”.