On-site chaplaincy

It is no secret that the mining boom in Western Australia is over. The resource industry has slowed and hundreds of former fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers are struggling to adjust to life after FIFO, still more remain on resource projects in remote Western Australia. So how do FIFO workers who are still on projects deal with the pressures of a slowing industry, along with isolation and increasing money problems?

Rev John Dihm provides services as a chaplain to FIFO workers at a number of Rio Tinto mining camp sites in the Pilbara, with the Uniting Church WA’s Remote Area Ministry, Tom Price. John moved to Tom Price three years ago from South Australia where he ministered to people living on stations.

“I thought I’d be doing station work again, and very little mining work. I met the mining manager here and we became very good friends,” he said.

Three months into his time there, his manager friend called John to ask for his help; one of the mine workers at the site had died by suicide. This was the beginning of John’s ministry to FIFO workers in the Pilbara.

According to John, “FIFO workers talk to you about three things: one is their relationships back home, two is about their financial situation, and the third one is about their anxiety of being on site.”

The relationship element of FIFO work contributes significantly to anxiety issues for FIFO workers. John told the story of a couple with three children trying to make FIFO work for them. With the husband on site and the wife back home taking care of three kids under five, the strain at times has seemed more than they can bear. In these situations, John takes the opportunity to speak with both to remind them of their goal and to counsel them in how to handle the strain in the meantime.

John estimates that most FIFO workers he has contact with earn $180 000–$200 000 a year and the average age of workers is around 26 years old. For some, the money is a problem.

“Some guys get the taste for the big money,” but for others “the money just slips through their fingers,” John said.

He told a story of a young man with an $80 000 credit card debt. He said this isn’t unusual and the anxieties around money can be crippling. For these young men, John helps to organise financial counselling.

John speaks about his work with passion and empathy, in the past three years he has attended to 18 deaths, many of which took their own lives. With increasing pressure on FIFO workers in a slowing resource industry, chaplaincy and counselling can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

He explained that Rio Tinto has never had a chaplain before now, and though the partnership remains informal, Rio Tinto donate funds toward his ministry and assists him in his important work ministering to FIFO workers.

John expressed that while his work is exhausting, spending time at the gorges in the Pilbara refreshes him.

Elaenor Nield

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