Fly in Fly out (FiFo) mining and oil and gas camps are a continuing source of mostly adverse coverage in the Australian press in particular– and comment has even gone more international with at least two U.K. BBC investigative reports commissioned, apparently the second initiated without any internal awareness of the first!

For the uninitiated FiFo doesn’t just refer to the mid section of the utterance from Jack and the Beanstalk’s cannibalistic giant, but for those workers who are flown in to remote mining, construction, oil and gas camps to stay there for a week or more at a time which many see as preferable to building a permanent (as long as the mine or job persists) residential camp which would be cut off from civilisation as we know it. 

In the case of offshore oil and gas platforms this is a no-brainer, but for mines in particular the principles are a source of a huge amount of soul-searching among the press and the elements of modern society perhaps over-obsessed with social issues.

Thus FiFo is a continuing whipping boy for the Australian press which highlights logistical issues, relationship issues (because of workers spending time away from home and family), sexual issues with FiFo mining camps even apparently leading to FiFo prostitutes – young ‘ladies’ apparently being able to earn large sums very quickly from sex-starved lonely miners – or perhaps just providing opportunities for those workers who take the opportunity for a bit on the side when they are away from home with no likelihood of being caught in flagrante.

The latest report to surface on FiFo mores suggests that some, not all, FiFo camps are potential hotbeds for crime, drug taking and, although not stated, probably for every other vice and perversion known to man and woman – there are FiFo women workers too.

But, reality suggests something rather different with both the workers themselves, and permanent  residents in some of the remote locations into which the workers are flown for week-on-week off, or longer periods of work, mostly relatively satisfied with the arrangement, which generally involves high rates of payment in comparison with locally-based jobs.

Indeed some fly in from very long distances away to join the weekly commute which brings some airports (notably Perth in  Western Australia) to a virtual congestion-related logjam in the early hours of every Monday morning.

The new report on FiFo was from Queensland University of Technology School of Justice head Kerry Carrington who has just published her three year critical study titled The Resource Boom’s Underbelly in which she claims, according to website miningaustralia.com.au, that FiFo mining camps in Western Australia and Queensland were forcing workers toward crime and drugs.

“When you’re in a camp and you’re not part of the community, you create hot boxes of crime — breeding groups for alcohol-related abuse,” she is reported as saying. “You create markets for illicit drugs, especially designer drugs because they bypass testing… “This is not the fault of individuals, it’s the conditions they are put in.”

Perhaps erring even further on the side of hyperbole she also likened some FiFo locations as being comparable to concentration camps.

This seems to contradict a relatively recent URS study which found that two thirds of resident and non-resident mining and gas workers in Queensland are happy with their accommodation arrangements and thus showed little difference between the views of both transient and residential workers

While FiFo comes in for an awful lot of criticism in Australia, although seemingly rather less in other areas where it is also commonplace, it is hard to envisage any other solution for mining companies working in exceedingly remote locations.

It is more expensive to build a ‘permanent’ residential camp, with the necessary associated infrastructure (schools, recreational facilities etc.) than hostel or hotel-type accommodation for transient workers, but to find people prepared to bring their families to these places which may be hundreds of miles from anything that might be termed ‘civilisation’ is difficult, particularly when trying to find those with the necessary skills to operate the equipment on a modern mine.

And, the cost of FiFo workers, who command very high salaries, and their transportation to site, to an extent negates the additional cost of providing standard residential facilities

True, some of the problems associated with the Queensland report quoted earlier may well apply in some cases, and yes, some families find the absence of the person who is usually the main breadwinner for extended periods difficult to live with – but then probably the majority do not have any such problems – indeed in some cases the cynics would argue that perhaps their relationships benefit from such absences.  If one looks at the military for example, tours of duty may be far longer and far more stressful if ones loved ones are in conflict areas.  The Australian FiFo debate needs to be put in context!