Fly in, fly out: Inside the lives of Western Australia’s FIFO WAGs and families

For most Aussie families, work-life balance looks like a weekday grind that finishes when the allotted eight hours are up.

But for thousands of fly-in, fly-out workers, the week begins and ends with a flight to one of the mines in the remotest corners of Western Australia.

Common schedules include one week off and two weeks on, which often leaves partners of FIFO workers alone to manage the household.

This is the reality for Alix Andriani, whose husband Phillip has worked for six years at a mine that’s a flight away from their home at Wellard in Perth’s south.

In a bid to find support and create community with other women while their partners were thousands of kilometres away, she founded “FIFO WAGs” in 2019.

Alix said the group helps partners to remain positive despite the challenges of being in a relationship with a FIFO worker.

“I found there wasn’t much support that wasn’t negative that wives and partners had for each other,” she said.

“We meet up and it’s just a really good network of women who have maybe moved over here during Covid from the east coast, or internationally.”

What’s on offer are brunches, drinks nights, photo shoots and general catch ups for women who find commonality in being away from their partners for weeks at a time.

Despite the difficulties of being a FIFO WAG, Alix says the unusual set up does come with some benefits.

“When my husband is home, he gets to do school drop offs. He gets to attend school assemblies and swimming lessons,” she said.

“He gets to do all of the hands-on dad things that he mightn’t be able to if he had a nine to five in Perth.

“So the week he’s home, he can do the night time routine — what he’d probably miss if he was working late here. It just provides more quality family time that’s more important.”

“We had a rule that if he was going to do FIFO, I would be a full time parent, so the kids would have one consistent parent there all the time.”

In terms of keeping her relationship fresh despite the distance, Alix says it all comes down to communication and dedicated time together.

“We’re lucky these days with Facetime and messages and that sort of thing, and I feel like when he’s home, the kids will go over to my mum’s on a Saturday night (so) we can go out on a date night, or we can stay home and just spend time with each other,” she said.

“We definitely don’t miss out and I actually enjoy the time that he’s away because I can get a bit set in my ways and I want to watch my shows.”

The mother-of-three also relies on help from extended family to look after Axl, 7, Ace, 4, and Anjel, 2.

Family assistance became especially important after she was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year.

Despite her set up working well, Alix says she knows there are stereotypes that mar the sector and those who work in it.

“I think there’s a view that people (in mining) get paid a lot of money and they do get paid well for their jobs, which are dangerous, and when you think about it, one of us is at home and it’s still one income,” she said.

“Another thing people always assume is that people are cheating on another person and I mean there is lots of that too but it’s a pretty negative side, which is one of the reasons I started the (FIFO WAGs) group.”

Mining jobs pay an average of $140,000 for a full-time worker, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

But despite the benefits, mining companies have had issues recruiting Australians for the lucrative roles and instead taken the search further afield.

Mineral Resources, which is based in Perth, launched an advertising campaign this month to entice New Zealanders to work in Western Australia with salaries of up to $300,000.

The company boasts “amazing” incentives for both skilled and unskilled roles, including offering the option to fly in and fly out for six months of the year.

“We’re offering plenty,” Mineral Resources CEO Mike Grey told New Zealand’s The AM Talk Show.

“The incentives are amazing, and I have no doubt that our salaries double (New Zealand salaries), in some examples they triple.”

There are more than 60,000 FIFO workers in Western Australia who fly into remote work sites for mining, oil and gas projects across the state.

Originally published as Inside the lives of Western Australia’s FIFO WAGs

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