Evolution in mining and transportation technologies and changes in
town development standards have resulted in the apparent rejection
of the concept of the “mining town” in favour of the fly-in–flyout
(FIFO) system in the Canadian mining industry (Shrimpton and
Storey, 1989; Heiler et al., 2003). Fly-in–fly-out, also referred to as flyin,
long distance commuting, or commuter mines, has become the
dominant approach to new mine developments, particularly in
Australia and Canada (Costa, 2004). Common rosters adopted in
Canadian FIFO mines are four-days-in–three-days-out (4/3 roster)
and the two-weeks-in–two-weeks-out roster (2/2 roster). Shifts are
usually 12 hours long.
Although FIFO plays an important role in fulfilling
the economic, social, and workforce needs of the
contemporary mining industry, extended absence
from home can be challenging for both male and
female employees. Research in the mining and oil
and gas industries reveals that major sources of
stress for fly-in–fly-out mining employees are the
times of parting and of reunion, defining roles within
the family, parenting, and conflict between spouses
over the use of leave time and money (Shrimpton
and Storey, 1986; 1991).
But is the nature of the FIFO model threatening
the place women have attained in the mining workforce?
How are women in the industry coping with
FIFO schedules and consequent intermittent relationships
with families/partners? How is the industry
adapting to recruit and retain female employees
in FIFO operations? This article briefly discusses an
exploratory study that provides some initial insights
that help us answer these questions, and concludes
with initial recommendations for industry and for
Why is it important to hire and retain women in the mining workforce?
Although the number of women in the mining
workforce has increased in the last few years,
women continue to be under-represented, at 13.1
per cent of the workforce, which is substantially
lower than the national average of 46.9 per cent
(2003 figures)(MITAC, 2005).The average percentage
of women in the FIFO mines that participated in this
study was even lower, at about 10 per cent.
Diversity in the workplace brings clear, tangible,
and measurable advantages to organizations
(Pattenden, 2002). Diversity management strongly
correlates with higher morale, improved public
image, improved productivity, and more creative
problem-solving (AusIMM, 2004). An Equal
Employment Opportunity (US) Commission study
indicates that effective diversity management
strategies significantly impact positively on a corporation’s
and Stead, 1999). Moreover,
diversity can enhance innovation
because it brings
together a variety of perspectives
skills.This is important for the
mining industry, particularly
in areas where innovation is
essential, such as in mineral exploration and
research and development (Pattenden, 2002).
We would also argue that by failing to hire and to
retain female employees, the mining industry is losing
talent and corporate knowledge, and failing to
benefit from a larger pool of non-technical and
teamwork skills and emotional intelligence.
Study strategy and population
This study included telephone interviews and
questionnaires. We contacted the human
resources (HR) superintendents of five operating
FIFO mines.We asked them for an interview and to
distribute the invitation to participate to women
working or who had worked in their operations.
During a period of two months, we were able to
interview three HR superintendents and 16
women who are currently working or who worked
in FIFO mines.
In the group of women interviewed, 31.5 per cent
were engineers/geologists, 12.5 per cent were in
health/wellness-related positions, 12.5 per cent
were in trades, and 43.75 per cent were in administrative/
financial positions. The average age was 33.
Most of them were single (56 per cent), and 12.5 per
cent had children. Half of the women interviewed
were in a 2/2 roster.The other half was in a 4/3 roster
or a combination of different rosters.
The HR superintendents and female employees’
opinions, our conclusions, and recommendations
are discussed in the next sections.