Community opposes FIFO comments
Claims by Rio Tinto that fly-in, flyout workforces are “good for the bush” have been refuted by Pilbara residents, local authorities and chambers of commerce.
Rio Tinto chief executive iron ore Chris Salisbury last week said the company’s regional FIFO program made “a significant economic contribution to regional Western Australia” with more than 2000 of its FIFO workforce coming from regional WA hubs including Mandurah, Busselton, Albany and Geraldton.
But Pilbara representatives said any benefits claimed to flow from the regional FIFO program notably did not apply to the Pilbara.
WA Nationals leader and Pilbara MLA Brendon Grylls, who at his campaign launch this month announced a policy offering companies incentives for offering residential jobs, said the comments were a “serious slap in the face” to Pilbara residents and showed mining companies were “out of touch” with community sentiment.
He said FIFO was the “numberone issue” he heard from community members and he believed major mining companies in town were still prioritising FIFO over resi-
dential work in the Pilbara, with a lot of people telling him they had been forced to move from the Pilbara and go FIFO for resources work.
“We’ve normalised the rents, it’s affordable to live here now, we’ve improved the service delivery in both health and education and liveability in terms of the Leisureplex, cafes and small bars and the like, so we’ve taken away the reasons FIFO started,” he said.
“You would think the next 50 jobs advertised would be residential . . . but it’s just not happening.”
Mr Grylls said he agreed there was a place for FIFO serving remote mine sites, but not those close to established towns.
Pilbara Regional Council chief executive Tony Friday said the Pilbara suffered economically from FIFO because unlike residential work, FIFO work prevented money being reinvested into the economy where it was earned.
“The impact of FIFO is that workers earn their money in one economy — the Pilbara — and then spend it in another — Perth, Bunbury, et cetera,” he said. “This means the Pilbara provides the source of the economic stimulus, but derives very little of its value.”
Mr Friday said mining companies should have to show “exceptional circumstances” for using FIFO instead of residential workers on construction projects.
He said the Pilbara’s battle to reduce FIFO stemmed from its persistent “image problem” image as a giant mine site with nothing else to offer prospective residents.
Mr Salisbury’s comments were made in praise of an independent ACIL Allen Consulting report showing Rio’s regional FIFO program, set up in 2006, had economic benefits in its home regions.
He said the program was “sustaining local populations” so “social infrastructure and services are more viable, local businesses have customers with money in their pocket and new jobs are being created in regional WA”.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia also issued a statement in support of the report in which CME chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said FIFO was a preference for a lot of WA resource sector employees and “politicians should not dictate to people where they should live and work”.
City of Karratha and Shire of Ashburton both said they supported mainly residential workers.
“The City of Karratha has been consistent in its advocacy for operational workforces to be residential to the greatest extent possible with FIFO workers used mainly for construction projects and peak periods such as shutdowns,” City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long said.
Shire of Ashburton Kerry White said FIFO was a “complex issue” with factors including distance and the life and size of a mine to consider, but the local government wanted to see permanent populations grow and be sustainable in the Pilbara.
Pilbara Regional Chambers of Commerce spokesman John Lally said it encouraged residential workforces which build regional communities and businesses.
Fortescue Metals Group port and rail general manager Fernando Pereira said the company was committed to providing a residential operation workforce in the Pilbara while also running FIFO work from Pilbara towns to remote mine sites.
A BHP Billiton spokesman said its Port Hedland and Newman workforce was mostly residential but it viewed “a mix of residential and FIFO roles” allowed flexible work arrangements.