Workers reveal hidden pain of FIFO life

Luka Kauzlaric

A HIDDEN world of broken families, lost relationships and abandoned children is coming to the surface in the mining and construction industry as young workers take their own lives.

"You can't put a price on family," said father-of-three Jason*, whose life has been torn apart due to intense working conditions.

"But the look on my son's face when I can pick him up from school is priceless."

Gladstone workers say with long rosters requiring physical, high-risk work, which is the basis for the CFMEU members' protected industrial action, it won't be long before a local life is lost.

The concern comes on the back of a suicide this week of a fly-in, fly-out worker on WA's Barrow Island - the fourth death Australia-wide in the past 12 months.

The suicide rate of FIFO workers is 70% higher than the national average.

Gladstone locals are becoming FIFOs elsewhere as the work dries up on Curtis Island, while the other half of the island's workers are FIFOs from elsewhere.

The Observer sat down with Jason, who's been separated from his two sons and daughter due to a relationship breakdown and work, to listen to some of the problems faced on the job.

The 39-year-old Gladstone man worked on the island and has gone on to FIFO across Australia.

Like most of the workers, he won't reveal his identity for fear of job retribution, but he's also worried about his own mental health as well as those around him.

"A lot of young guys haven't done FIFO before," Jason said.

"Relationships are strained ... on these rosters you're not going to be there for every birthday, carnival and footy game with the kids."

He said at least a dozen Gladstone workers were on FIFO where he works, but his three-weeks on/one-week off roster meant a week of quality time with his kids.

"If I got told to go back on a four/one (week) roster again I couldn't do it again, I'd resign," he said.

He said workers on the bigger mining and construction sites spent most of their time travelling.

"Guys put in for leave for the Christmas holidays and are getting knocked back," he said.

"You're entitled to an RDO once a month but they look down at you and want an explanation - watching your kid run the 100m for school is not good enough for them."

He said the one week off was often reduced to five days with the family, and after two days of travel it didn't leave much time for relaxing before returning to work.

"You come home cranky and tired and find yourself snapping at the kids."

He said workers tried to drown their problems in the gym or in the drink.

"You can have a few drinks and talk to your mates and it's all good, but you get back to your donga (room) and at 2am when you can't sleep it's very lonely," he said.

"I'm worried about these young fellas - a 22-year-old is not going to call a counsellor, not one of them will ask for help. Their way out is suicide."

Topics:  curtis island editors picks employment fifo health industry mining

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