Fly-in fly-out is a method of employing people in remote areas by flying them temporarily to the work site instead of relocating the employee and their family permanently. It is often abbreviated to FIFO when referring to employment status. This is common in large mining states in Australia.
Similar to the Fly-in fly-out roster is the DIDO roster, Drive-in drive-out, which has essentially the same benefits and negatives.
Rather than relocating the employee and their family to a town near the work site, the employee is flown to the work site where they work for a number of days and are then flown back to their home town for a number of days of rest.
Fly-in fly-out is very commonly used in the mining industry, as mines are often in areas far from towns. Employers prefer it when the cost of establishing permanent communities (of sufficient quality to attract families to live locally) will exceed the cost of airfares and temporary housing on the work site. Generally, such sites use portable buildings since there is no long-term commitment to that location (e.g. the mine will close once the minerals have been extracted).
Usually a fly-in fly-out job involves working a long shift (e.g. 12 hours each day) for a number of continuous days with all days off spent at home rather than at the work site. As the employee's work days are almost entirely taken up by working, sleeping and eating, there is little need for any recreation facilities at the work site. However, companies are increasingly offering facilities such as pools, tennis courts and gyms as a way of attracting and retaining skilled staff. Employees like such arrangements since their families are often reluctant to relocate to small towns in remote areas where there might be limited opportunities for partner's employment, limited educational choices for children, and poor recreational facilities.
The impact of absent FIFO fathers on their children and schooling has yet to be the subject of a major study, but it is likely that the separation anxiety experienced by the children of FIFO workers is similar to that of military families before, during and after deployment. Research recently undertaken in Australia. suggests that "Potential impacts on children include: negative emotions experienced as a result of the FIFO parent's absence; increased levels of behaviour problems (particularly among boys) when the parent is away for longer periods; greater experiences of bullying at school; and increased pressure to succeed academically. However, some children view the extended time that a FIFO parent has at home as a positive outcome".
One psychological model that can be useful in countering separation anxiety is the Emotional Cycle of Deployment developed by US Navy. Picture books like My Daddy's Going Away or Mummy's Home have been written for use in schools and homes to support younger children (and the parent or carer left behind) to understand their emotions and they can act as a beneficial catalyst for discussion between parents, teachers and children of all ages.
Mining towns that once had a considerable size, like Wiluna in Western Australia, which had a population of 9,000 in 1938, have shrunk to a population of 300, with almost all employees of the local mines on fly-in fly-out rosters.
A federal inquiry into Fly-in fly-out and Drive-in drive-out in Australia in 2012 found that it can lead to an increase in substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, and mental illness in workers on a FIFO roster, especially in Western Australia, where the number of people on such a roster is in excess of 50,000.
The number of Fly-in fly-out workers in Western Australia is set to increase to 63,000 by 2015. Mining companies like Fortescue Metals Group estimate that it would cost the company an additional A$100,000 per person per year to employ them in residential positions rather than as FIFO workers. In Port Hedland alone the company could save A$33 million a year if it was to convert its 330-strong work force from residential to FIFO, the company estimates. The much higher cost of employing residential workers is caused by high real estate prices, slow release of land for residential development and high cost of living subsidies and forces mining companies to rely on FIFO rather than residential workers.
Mining companies such as Rio Tinto have said that it is also the Governments responsibility to deal with the side effects of Fly-in fly-out, including housing shortages and the need to develop further infrastructure in the mining regions such as hospitals and schools to fulfil demand, as the Government highly benefits from increased tax and royalties income through the mining boom. Rio Tinto paid A$5billion in corporate tax and in excess of A$2billion in state royalties in 2011.
- Rio Tinto flies former Gunns workers to its Pilbara mine sites International Business Times, published: 17 March 2011, accessed: 21 August 2012
- Fly-in fly-out Rio Tinto website, accessed: 21 August 2012
- Rio warns against fly-in, fly-out fiddling The Australian, published: 15 June 2012, accessed: 21 August 2012
- 7.30 Report - 17 October 2005: Industry supports fly in, fly out operations
- Fly-in fly-out family study highlights domestic stress » ABC Goldfields WA
- Storey, Keith (July 2001). "Fly-in/Fly-out and Fly-over: Mining and regional development in Western Australia". Australian Geographer 32 (2): 133–148. doi:10.1080/00049180120066616.
- Meredith, V., Rush, P., & Robinson, E. (2014). "Fly-in fly-out workforce practices in Australia: The effects on children and family relationships". CFCA Paper No.19. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- Garrick Moore: Mining Towns of Western Australia, page: 93, accessed: 10 January 2010
- STIs spreading, doctors forced out: AMA warning to FIFO inquiry watoday.com.au published: 17 April 2012, accessed: 21 August 2012
- Fly-in fly-out saves millions, Fortescue tells inquiry The Sydney Morning Herald, published: 18 April 2012, accessed: 21 August 2012
- Garrick Moore: Mining Towns of Western Australia ISBN 1-875449-34-5, published: 1996
- Workforce Turnover in FIFO Mining Operations in Australia: An Exploratory Study A research report by Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining and Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre Summary Report