Election 2013 Western Australia March 9

wa2013.vote-wars.info ~ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Announcements by Greg Ross

Independent Candidate Ross On FIFO Life Truths

by Greg Ross Independent Candidate for Kalamunda

Once upon a time, across a sunburnt land, anybody who worked hard was held in high regard. Of course, there were always those who regarded themselves a cut above the working stiff, but usually even those bastions of society would, albeit condescendingly,  agree such workers were salt of the earth people, to be admired in their own way.

But these days, throw on your hi res fluorescent vest and work boots, and queue up to fly far away from home, to work long 12 hour days, inevitably without a day off for the next 14 and you are a pariah. Something to be hidden away, sniggered at over dinner parties, as 'FIFO cashed-up bogans,” or derided by a party such as The Greens . Their Kimberley candidate, Chris Maher, says, and I quote: “A Kimberley full of FIFO workers in high-viz clothing would surely challenge the New York Times image of the Kimberley as one of the world's must-see destinations.” I'll return to Maher later.

It's only a few months ago, The West Australian newspaper ran a breathless couple of articles telling us all about prostitutes and FIFO workers ruining towns, bringing disease and by implication, crime and seedy people to country towns. It was a beat-up. Oh yes, I'm sure there are a couple of sex workers hanging around airports and surprise, surprise humans like to fuck, but most of us in the FIFO game laughed, wondering how the hell anybody found the time. The poor bloody cashed-up FIFO bogan, sneered at if he or she likes Aussie muscle cars – I do, got two, or needs a “relief massage” - I don't, got a finacee. Had the journo never heard of the history of mining booms in places such as California, Otago, Ballarat and Kalgoorlie?

I'm a FIFO (Fly In Fly Out) worker – well, normally. I've quit to stand for the forthcoming WA State election – and I'd like to tell you a bit about life as a FIFO worker, set the record straight as it were.

The most common shift for FIFO workers, is 14 days on, followed by a seven day break, some (usually managers), are lucky enough to work seven or eight days on, followed by six or seven days off. There's a bit of give and take – the first day of your shift is your Fly In day, so you get paid from the time you arrive at Perth Airport, but you fly home on the first day of your time off and don't get paid. To make matters worse, you've usually just come off night shift, so you've worked all night, haven't slept and then spend anywhere up to eight hours travelling. By the time you get home, you're a zombie in need of a shower. Most of us hate that fly out day, we don't want to go, we'd give anything to stay home, but there's no choice, the only way to achieve chosen goals is to go to work. You look around the plane and sure, there's lots of bravado, but you know it's false. On to mine site life.

Most shifts start around 4.30am, so you set your alarm for 3.30am, get up, go to the crib room for breakfast, make and pack your lunch and board the transport to the mine site, or, if you're a driver, the Go Line. If it's too wet to work, you're sent back to camp and paid eight hours, instead of the full 12 hour shift. That segues into pay rates and some of the nonsense talked about, in terms of colossal money earned.

Most are paid a flat rate and this is worked out amortising load rates (overtime) and public holidays, for example, a road train driver might earn $42.00 an hour, whereas back in Perth, he or she will earn $25.00 per hour, but with all loadings and have all public holidays off. So yes, FIFO workers do take home good money – it's usually the ONLY reason they're doing it, but it is due to long hours and days without a break. By law, you have to have one full day off after 14 days working and if you have that in camp, you don't get paid for it. One more thing about FIFO workers, they're not covered by Fairwork Australia. Kevin Rudd and his crew completely forgot about FIFO workers when they set it up, the whole Fairwork system is based on a 38 hour week, consequently, FIFO workers are regarded as overpaid by the system. It could even be argued by an employer that the employee owes money back to the employer! Unlikely, but it's possible. Now you know how well the Labor Party and the faceless back room goons really studied the employment situation as usual, it was based around office workers. But I digress.

It's 5.00am, you've been at work for half an hour, sometime around 8.30am, you'll probably stop for a 20 minute coffee break, then around 11.30am, stop for a half hour lunch, then back into it. Whether you're underground, or topside, it's not like an office, there's no time for idle chit chat and you probably need to fill out a form in triplicate to go to the toilet. Finally, 4.30pm rolls around, you climb on board the bus and head back to camp, usually about a half hour trip on most sites.

Everybody has their own pattern, but I like to have my shower before dinner. Another segue, your room. It's usually about three metres by three metres, with a small en-suite and equipped with a king size single bed, a bar fridge, a small desk and a television, most camps these days thankfully provide free wireless internet – it's the only way people stay sane – Skyping family and friends, sending emails etc, but it's not unusual to get a room where the reception is bad and you have to take your laptop outside and sit in the heat or cold to get reception. And in recent times, to save money, most mining companies have introduced what's known as 'Motelling' - when you go on your break, somebody else uses your room, or you keep moving from room to room each time you come back on shift, unless of course you're a manager. It's an awful system that denies people a place to call home. Think about it, the FIFO worker spends a third of his or her life at the camp – it's their main home.

Anyhow, you arrive at your room around 5.00pm, you've had a shower and it's now about 5.30pm. About every three days, you've got to do your washing, as the machines will only handle about three lots of hi-res shirts, pants, underwear and socks. So you trundle off to the laundry, hoping for a machine that's not being used and throw your washing in (the washing powder is usually free), then walk over to either the Wet Mess (the bar), or the dining room.

Bar? I hear you say. Yep, but things are heavily policed, in two ways. As is almost inevitable with young testosterone-filled young blokes, arguments do break out with a bit of booze under the belt, if that leads to a physical altercation, both parties are on the next plane out, no ifs, no buts, job gone. If anybody turns up for work and fails the breath test, oh yes, everybody has one at the start of each shift, then they're sent back to camp and not paid for the day. Third time, usually it's a 'Window Seat' – job gone.

OK, you've had a couple of beers and it's now 6.30pm, walk back to the laundry and hope you can find an empty drier, chuck your clothes in and head for the dining room. By now it's probably close to 7.00pm. Dinner finished and yes, they're usually great multiple choice meals, by now it's probably 7.30pm. Back to the room, turn on the TV, try and catch some news, then Skype the family. You're tired, been on the go constantly and trying to respond to family and friends as decently as possible.

There's a strange empty feeling of disconnect when you hang up, tempered by tiredness, it's probably just after 8.00pm, you've got to go get your dry laundry and suddenly it's 8.30pm and time to go to bed – you've got to get up in seven hours and repeat the whole process.

There's a bit of a break on what's known as Shift-change – from Day shift to night. You finish your day shift and don't start again until 4.30pm the next afternoon, it's this period when most people take the opportunity to relax and have a few drinks, even watch TV until the wee small hours, then sleep through the day until getting up at 3.30pm. Night shift is simply day shift in reverse.

At the end of your swing, you come off duty, wash, pack and board the bus for the airport, but even then, you might not get home. While most mining company airports are sealed, usually they don't have the electronics for instrument landings, so if any cloud cover is below 1,500 feet, the plane can't land and returns to Perth. There is NOTHING more soul destroying than hearing the plane engines fade into the distance! Getting back to the newspaper's 'Prostitutes and FIFO workers' story … after 14 days of 12 hour shifts, the last six or seven on night shift? Let me tell you, everybody at that airport just wants to get HOME as quickly as possible. You want to see the pushing and shoving in the queue to get on that homeward bound flight.

But let's imagine you've made it home, you're not going out that first night, you're stuffed and it's usually about half way through the second day by the time you feel human again. But of course, nobody else is around, they're all at work, so it can get a bit solitary and if you're a dad or mum, it can be very, very difficult for everybody to find their place in the day to day running of the family unit – you don't want to yell at the kids, you haven't seen them for two weeks, you don't want to argue with your partner about finances or stuff, in some ways, you don't want to face day to day issues for three of four days. By then, it's almost time to fly out, other family members get sad, so do you, or your mates tell you all about the great party / event they're going to and you can't. A V8 motor sport lover, I inevitably found the motor racing was always on while I was working, Murphy's Law seems to play a huge part in the life of a FIFO worker.

Why do we do it? To  get ahead, to pay for that house, pay for that education, or, in my case, to pay for that overseas travel lifestyle. Yes, I have in my time, I met the odd (and I sure mean that) character who prefers to work 52 weeks a year and doesn't want contact with people 'back home', but they're very, very rare – you might run into one once a year.

The pay isn't really all that different to doing a similar job in Perth, it's just that the hours are available, the downside is you always seem to miss public holidays and try being away from home working a 12 hour daily shift over Christmas / New Year.

So next time you see somebody at the airport all decked out in hi-res working clothes – they're already working, or have just come off several days of night shift. They've probably got a qualification you could only dream of, they probably work under conditions you wouldn't stand for and they live in tiny rooms refugee advocates would probably call inhumane. Fucking bogans, ruining the look of our airports!

Oh yes, Maher and the Greens – I'll tell you what will challenge the Big Apple's image of the Kimberley – the grinding poverty of indigenous people, the lack of education, the lost, wandering children, the alcoholism, the barbaric third world conditions, the begging, the violence and that awful, confronting huge gulf between white and black. But every now and then, hopefully they'll see a proud Aboriginal person in his or her hi-res FIFO work gear and they won't vote for you mate.

The #wa2013vote website will be kept online so politicians promises and statements can be checked until the end of next WA election in 2017, and after.