OPINION: The FIFO life can be hard on the workers and their families
Summary: IT was with a heavy heart this week that the NT News reported that a FIFO worker on Inpex’s Ichthys project took his own life.....
It marked the ninth life that has been lost to suicide on the project.
Like most workers at Ichthys, he worked a four and one roster, around 68 hours per week, not including travel time.
That’s four weeks in a mining camp and one week back at home.
Whenever I hear about these tragedies it always hits close to home for me.
My Dad has been a FIFO worker for the last 16 years.
When I was a teenager he wasn’t really around for birthdays, Christmases, my school graduation or weekends.
It was hard for us but it wasn’t until I was older that I really understood the emotional toll it took on him.
He’d spend most Christmases on the other end of the phone listening while we celebrated only to go back to his empty room in the middle of nowhere, alone.
When some kids at my new school asked me “don’t you have a dad?”, he says it broke his heart.
My boyfriend is also a FIFO worker and has shared with me how the feelings of isolation and “missing out” can sometimes wreak havoc with your emotional wellbeing.
I don’t know the worker and don’t want to appear as though I’m assigning a cause to his suicide; the only thing that’s clear to an outsider is that he was suffering from a mental illness, potentially exacerbated by FIFO work.
A few years back, a spate of FIFO suicides in West Australian sparked a parliamentary inquiry.
Its final report, released in 2015, found about 30 per cent of the FIFO workforce has mental health issues, while the national average sits at 20 per cent.
Some of the inquiry’s recommendations included implementing a Code of Practice for FIFO work to encourage even-time rostering, fatigue management, awareness of mental health and access to quality communication services.
We’re still waiting.
When discussing these issues, a common sentiment among the general public is “FIFO work is a choice” and “they get paid loads”.
I remember talking to a worker from Inpex last year who had a young family.
He was reflecting on a hard time he was going through a few months earlier — his marriage was close to collapse and he was struggling with his mental health.
I asked him why he didn’t just quit and go home to his family.
He explained that he made four times the amount working away than he would at home — that’s if he could even get a job at home.
“Your family gets used to a certain lifestyle and it’s hard to take that away from them … besides there’s no work for me back home,” he said.
Four years ago, 25-year-old father-of-one Rhys Connor took his own life in a WA mining camp.
In a bid to raise awareness about mental health issues plaguing our FIFO workers, Rhys’ parents, Peter and Anita Miller, spoke out calling on mining giants to do more to protect workers.
Mr Miller said his son had been broken down by FIFO work, in particular the “torturous” roster of spending four weeks on-site for every one-week off.
According to its website, the Ichthys LNG Project “is ranked among the most significant oil and gas projects in the world”.
It’s just a shame that the companies contracted to build it aren’t leading the way with a more family-friendly roster.