Industry slams FIFO recommendations

THE mining industry has panned yesterday’s scathing report into fly-in fly-out work practices, urging governments to be wary of the recommendations because they will lead to job losses and higher business costs.
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Lauren Barrett

The Cancer Of The Bush Or Salvation For Our Cities report detailed 21 recommendations regarding FIFO and drive-in, drive-out work practices in regional Australia, including removing tax benefits for companies using transient workers and relocating the FIFO workforce to regional towns.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder mayor Ron Yuryevich’s comment that FIFO was the “cancer of the bush” caused a stir among industry groups, with the Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke labelling the reference offensive to FIFO workers.

Hooke said the report should be treated with a great deal of scepticism and reiterated that FIFO was a key driver in spreading the benefits of the mining boom across Australia.

Hooke referenced a report provided to the parliamentary committee that showed incomes and educational attainment were higher and unemployment lower in Australia’s mining regions.

MCA said it would strongly oppose any changes to the tax treatment for FIFO, which would add to the cost of doing business.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia was quick to react to the report. It warned the recommendations, which would increase costs for mining companies, should be discarded.

“Unfortunately, we are becoming a less attractive place to develop resources projects when compared with global resource-rich nations,” CME CEO Reg Howard-Smith said.

“Attraction and retention of employees would be severely impacted if companies attempted to force residential employment on their employees.”

With FIFO work in the WA resource sector expected to grow in the coming year, the CME said it supported recommendations for further evidence-based research into FIFO work practices.

Meanwhile, the Australian Mines and Metals Association joined in the attack on the report, labelling the outcome a disappointment because it had sought to “demonise what should be supported as legitimate workplace practices.”

“After openly participating in what was supposed to be a considered and sensible discussion about the increase in FIFO and DIDO arrangements, we are very disappointed to read committee chair Tony Windsor refer to these activities as a 'cancer' in his report foreword,” AMMA CEO Steve Knott said.

“The cancer versus saviour dichotomy is unfortunate when we are trying to advocate for a middle ground that balances the essential use of FIFO work arrangements with community needs and residential workforces where appropriate.”

Knott also dismissed the suggestion of relocating workers to regional communities.

“While it is all well and good for the committee to recommend workers relocate to regional areas to live, what that means is these workers are actually less employable after a project ends than if they were based in a metropolitan centre,” Knott said.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies expressed its concerns over the recommendations to change the Fringe Benefits Tax exemption, saying it would impact the economics of many projects.

“This could result in further job losses in the future,” AMEC CEO Simon Bennison said.

AMEC was instead welcoming of the “sensible recommendations”, including the need to review the allocation of funding for communities, developing and implementing a strategy for affordable housing and assisting in enhancing the capacity of small regional business.

Powerful worker representative group the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union was far more accepting of the report, but was quick to take a swipe at the mining companies.

“Over time we are seeing the fallout from FIFO-diminishing services in regional area, social discord with large groups of single men camped on the edge of country towns, and the growing failure of mining companies to invest in training for young Australians,” CFMEU national president Tony Maher said.

“It’s time the mining companies were held to account for the damage they are inflicting on regional communities, workers and their families.”

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