Call for FIFO election focus
Pilbara residents are calling on politicians to make local employment an election issue as claims of resources companies and contractors preferring “breeze-ins” continue to surface across the region.
The Rose family have lived in the Pilbara for 14 years but claim they are now at risk of leaving the place they call home because the major resources companies chose to hire fly-in, fly-out workers over them.
The couple can rattle off a long list of tickets often asked for by mining companies and contractors, but John Rose said that counted for little when they raised the fact they lived in Karratha.
But resources companies disagree, including Woodside, which says it employs a 70 per cent residential workforce at the North West Shelf, and Rio Tinto, which pointed to its home-building activities in the region.
Mr Rose said the experienced workers had applied for many jobs in the past year, but kept getting knocked back because they did not want to go FIFO.
“My wife was offered a job, then the people they were working for said ‘well, we can’t offer you the job now because you need to do an induction in Perth’,” he said. “My wife said she’d be happy to pay for the airfare down to do the induction and the company still said ‘sorry, not good enough’.
“I’ve still got kids here at school, so I don’t want to leave for that
reason alone, plus we enjoy the town.”
Mr Rose said there were a lot of skilled workers living in the Pilbara who should be prioritised for jobs over FIFO workers.
DB Yurra Industrial Construction Services WA operations manager Josh Boord said local jobseekers were often left frustrated by the number of FIFOonly positions advertised.
“Often we don’t get a look-in because we’re trying to employ locals,” he said.
“I have some good tradesmen here who are at the doorstep of these jobs that have been turned away because they are purely FIFO positions.
“We have had a couple of good success stories where we have been able to give guys full-time opportunities and that has enabled them to get their own home, to rent, to get their kids and partner up here and settle in.”
Mr Boord said hiring FIFO made no sense given the potential cost savings of hiring a local who did not need to be flown up, fed or housed.
A Woodside spokeswoman said about 70 per cent of North West Shelf workers were residential, including a majority of Karratha Gas Plant staff.
“There has been no change to Woodside’s workforce structure in Karratha this year, and no job losses,” she said.
“Woodside remains committed to maintaining a significant residential workforce in Karratha, as it has for more than 30 years.”
The spokeswoman said Woodside spent $44 million on businesses, non-profits, indigenous corporations and Government agencies in the City of Karratha in 2015 alone.
A Rio Tinto spokesman said Rio had added more than 500 new residential houses to its portfolio in Wickham and Karratha in the past few years.
“Near the coastal towns, we average around 75 per cent residential employees,” he said.
“For the inland mining towns, we average between 40-65 per cent residential.
“One of the key reasons for engaging FIFO workers is that the skills required are not available locally.”
The Pilbara News asked representatives from each of the four major parties for their views on the issue.
State Development Minister Bill Marmion was unavailable for comment.
WA Nationals Leader Brendon Grylls
“It is obviously substantially cheaper to have a worker living residentially in the Pilbara rather than flying in and out.
“At the moment, where there is a major debate going on around profitability of the miners, you would have thought they would be seeking the lowest cost pathway to employment.
“It disappoints me greatly when people tell me they own their own house in Karratha and they are missing out on jobs to FIFO people.
“You will be hearing during the election campaign some of our thoughts around how we might remind companies that residential is a good option.”
State Opposition Leader Mark McGowan
“Employers should be giving workers a choice of whether they want to live locally or work fly-in, fly-out or drive-in, drive-out.
“Too many jobs are being advertised as FIFO only, thereby stopping Pilbara residents from applying for jobs in the region.
“We also think FIFO camps should no longer be able to house tourists and to compete against local tourism operators.”
“A McGowan Labor Government would work with resource companies to ameliorate FIFO work practices, provide choice for workers and create strong regional communities and longterm employment opportunities in regional centres.”
Greens Member for Mining and Pastoral Robin Chapple
“FIFO practices do not promote the growth of regional communities as ... FIFO workers do not have a personal commitment to the town they’re based in.
“We’ve seen a decline in community elements such as sporting clubs ... along with an increase in the cost of living and a much greater impost on regional Shires who have had to cope with the provision of services for an influx of temporary people. If we want the North West to grow then we need to encourage people to move to the regions permanently, and do away with FIFO practices altogether.”
Nationals leader Brendon Grylls.
Labor leader Mark McGowan.
Greens Member for Mining and Pastoral Robin Chapple.