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Some FIFO workers feel trapped by ‘golden handcuffs’

Some FIFO workers feel trapped by ‘golden handcuffs’

Published:09 March 2018

Kristie-Lee Alfrey (top), Dr Amanda Rebar and Professor Corneel Vandelanotte co-authored the FIFO paper with Dr Benjamin Gardner from King’s College London. Mining image courtesy Jeremy Buckingham courtesy Flickr creative commons.

Shifting from FIFO life requires major lifestyle changes including a likely large reduction of salary – barriers which FIFO workers and their partners reported leading to feelings of being trapped with few alternative options.

Workers commented that absence from their family created relationship strains beyond feelings of loneliness, including frustration at missing out on significant family events and being unable to respond to domestic emergencies.

These findings are from a fresh research study into the mental health and wellbeing concerns of FIFO workers and their partners in Australia.

Researchers from Kings College London and CQUniversity Australia carried out the qualitative study published this week in the prestigious BMJ Open medical journal.

One of the study authors from CQUniversity, Kristie-Lee Alfrey said the surveyed FIFO workers revealed difficulties in adjusting between the responsibilities of their on-shift and off-shift lives.

“One respondent summed up the challenge of maintaining bravado in a male-dominated industry and then moving home to become a supportive, caring husband,” Ms Alfrey says.

“Partners often face an extra burden of domestic duties and many are effectively ‘single mums’ during the on-shift periods.

“Even after returning home, workers face a process of renegotiating domestic roles and responsibilities.”

Workers and partners felt that FIFO put considerable strain on relationships due to physical separation and a sense of psychological distance.

Some survey participants were concerned about their partner’s fidelity while others experienced anxiety and depression due to feelings of isolation.

“Workers and partners generally felt unsupported in negotiating health and wellbeing problems,” Ms Alfrey says.

“Due to stigmas surrounding mental health issues in mining, some workers were concerned that they would have a ‘black mark’ on their work record if they drew on employer-provided support services.

“We recommend that FIFO employers should emphasise the importance of good mental health and wellbeing, maintain transparency regarding potential challenges, and offer professional support for managing multiple social roles and effective communication.”

Ms Alfrey’s co-authors included Dr Benjamin Gardner from King’s College London and CQUniversity colleagues Dr Amanda Rebar, Professor Corneel Vandelanotte.