Fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) work, where workers are transported to a mine site for weeks at a time before returning for a rest break, has experienced rapid growth over the last decade, as the Australian mining industry has ramped up in regional and remote areas. The wages and conditions are excellent, but there's a human side to any economic success story that has only recently been gaining attention. 'FIFO families', as those who stay behind when the bread-winner jets off to some distant location have become known, have to deal with a kind of long-distance relationship that few others do. Wives, husbands and partners of new FIFO workers have to adapt to a 'new normal' in their relationship and day-to-day lives. Read on for four tips on making it work.
1. Set goals and limits
Before your partner begins FIFO work, sit down together and have an open discussion about what you, as a family unit, are looking to gain from the experience. Set goals about what you want to achieve — is it enough money to put down a deposit on a home or pay for the kids' education? Work together to set a limit on how long your partner will stay in FIFO work, and stick to it.
2. Stay connected, but don't overdo it
It is important to keep in touch with your FIFO spouse while he or she is away. Take advantage of technology such as satellite and video calling to make the distance not feel so great. When faced with problems, such as an issue with the kids or money, try to work as a team and ensure your partner's input is respected, despite the distance. However, as much as you may miss each other, try not to overdo it. Communication that is too frequent can often make you miss your partner even more.
3. Discuss priorities for R&R time
Most FIFO couples love the buzz of re-connecting during the working spouse's rest and relaxation (R&R) time. However, it's important to recognise that while you might be excited, your partner will likely have other priorities in addition to spending time with you — such as visiting friends or just relaxing in general after a hard month's work. Talk to your spouse about your plans for their R&R time, and make sure you are both on the same page.
4. Join social groups
At any one time, there are as many as 60,000 FIFO workers in Western Australia, where most FIFO employment is based. That means there are potentially tens of thousands of FIFO spouses just like you to connect with. Online support groups for FIFO partners are a great way to learn and share tips for managing the lifestyle, and they can be a great way to form groups of friends who are going through the same ordeal.
FIFO employment can be great for earning high salaries and enjoying a dynamic, fast-paced workplace. By having open discussions with your spouse, maintaining a reasonable level of communication, making the most of R&R time and getting in touch with FIFO spouse social groups, you'll be in a better position to support your partner in their work while keeping the relationship strong.