FLY-IN FLY-OUT (FIFO) WORKERS
Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) work is defined as “circumstances of work where the place of work is sufficiently isolated from the worker's place of residence to make daily commute impractical”1. The term FIFO covers other long distance commuting employment arrangement, such as drive-in drive-out. The FIFO phenomenon has become more apparent, particularly in remote regions where employment in mining and related industries have increased. FIFO workers may be utilised to deliver a range of services in remote communities, such as health services and supporting infrastructure projects.
How are FIFO workers reflected in the Australian population?
The ABS definition of the Australian population is on a ‘usual residence’ basis. Population estimates are based on Census data and are updated between five-yearly Censuses based on births, deaths, internal migration and overseas migration data2. The definition of usual residence in the Census, and associated population statistics, is the location where a person spends more than six months out of the year. On this basis, some FIFO workers will be included in the usual resident population of their FIFO community, while others will be included in the population of their home city or town.
In practice, when FIFO workers respond to the Census, they provide their interpretation of which location they believe to be their usual residence at the time. In some cases, a person may 'fly-in' to multiple locations, or stay in a variety of accommodation throughout the year. For such a person their home city or town may be the only fixed address they can provide, despite being resident there for less than six months of the year. This should be taken into account when using the usual resident population from ABS data to draw conclusions about FIFO and other topics.
LABOUR FORCE SURVEY (LFS)
Where are FIFO workers captured in labour surveys?
The LFS sample frame consists of dwellings, and responses are collected about each usual resident of the selected dwellings. The LFS also includes special dwellings, such as hotels, hostels and staff accommodation. One responsible adult in the selected dwelling usually provides information about all usual resident members of the household. If the city/town home of a FIFO worker is sampled, they will be included or excluded from the survey based on the perception of the survey respondent as to whether the person is a usual resident there. For example, the spouse of a FIFO worker may include that person as a usual member of the household even if they spend more than six months of the year at a different residence.
Due to the usual residence approach, any state/territory or regional level data published from labour household surveys will relate to where people are usually resident, and may not align with where they work. The LFS provides a measure of the employment of people who live in an area and not the levels of employment of the area.
Are FIFO workers identified in labour household surveys?
The LFS and supplementary labour surveys do not collect any information which could be used to directly determine whether a person is a FIFO worker. Supplementary surveys such as Locations of Work (cat. no. 6275.0) have collected some information about those who work in a different state/territory or region from where they live, which may serve as a proxy measure for some FIFO work. At the state level this would not identify people who fly-in/fly-out within the same state, such as living in Perth and working in the Pilbra (WA), however the difference in region would highlight such situations. Also, people may work across a state border, but in reality live within a short daily commute, such as between Albury (NSW) and Wodonga (VIC), or Queanbeyan (NSW) and Canberra (ACT).
Industry and occupation of work are also collected in labour surveys, but use of this information (for example considering the usual residence of miners residing in non-mining regions) will only result in partial coverage of FIFO workers, as a number of industries and occupations have very small proportions of employees who work on a FIFO basis, yet contribute substantially to the overall number of FIFO workers.
OTHER DATA SOURCES
Census of Population and Housing
The Census collects information on location of work, place of enumeration (where the person was counted on Census night) and usual residence, as well as various other characteristics such as age, sex, industry of work and occupation. The Census also provides a Working Population Profile for regions.
Distance travelled to work can be imputed by comparing location of work to location of usual residence. This is calculated based on the centre point of the region of work and region of residence, rather than on individual locations. Distance to work can be used to make inferences about FIFO and other service populations, but is not a direct or complete measure. For example, long distances might be calculated between the centre points of two large adjacent regions, whereas the individual may commute an easy drive across the border of those regions.
The number and characteristics of people counted in a region on Census night can be compared to the number and characteristics of usual residents in that region. It has been inferred from these data that in some regions many of the people who are staying in the region on Census Night could be FIFO workers. The ABS has previously released the following articles analysing this type of data:
Watts, J. (2004). Best of Both Worlds? Seeking a Sustainable Regional Employment Solution to Fly In-Fly Out Operations in the Pilbara. Karratha.
For details on the calculation of Australia's Estimated Resident Population, see Population Estimates: Concepts, Sources and Methods
(cat. no. 3228.0.55.001).