THE WA Opposition Leader has introduced a motion to Parliament calling for an urgent inquiry into suicides among FIFO workers following a spate of recent deaths in the
WA Labor leader Mark McGowan’s motion called on the Parliament’s Education and Health Standing Committee to look into reasons behind the high suicide rate in the FIFO workforce and to recommend initiatives industry and government could take to reduce its prevalence.
The push for the inquest came weeks after a worker took his own life on Barrow Island and just over a month after a man was found dead in his room in South Hedland in another suspected suicide.
Four FIFO suicides last year were referred to State Coroner Ros Fogliani for potential inquest and it is believed nine workers have taken their lives in the Pilbara in the past
Mr McGowan told Parliament the number of suicides in the 50,000-strong workforce was too high and the committee was best placed to look at the reasons behind the problem.
“The extraordinary number of FIFOs suiciding requires some inquiry…the committee can call before it people from industry and people from government to hear what practices they have in place and what we can do to enhance those practices,” he said.
“You have that power of a Parliamentary committee to call people forward; no other body has that power.” Mr McGowan said he understood FIFO was necessary to the mining industry and would not try to stop FIFO work practices.
However, Mental Health minister Helen Morton indicated the State Government would not back the inquiry.
Asked in Parliament whether she would support the motion, Ms Morton said the government was focused on initiatives that supported workers.“Our efforts are focused on taking action on the ground now, action that will have real impacts based on the information already gathered on how best to support these workers,” she said.
Ms Morton said the government was about to release a set of online support resources based on recent research and consultation into the mental wellbeing of FIFO workers.
“The online resources will include strategies that support mental health and wellbeing for FIFO workers and their families, services and supports, and personal stories of dealing with challenges and strengthening resilience,” she said.
The minister said the State Coroner would decide whether the deaths referred to her would be investigated individually and collectively and if she made a recommendation on mental health issues, it would be considered by the State Government.
FIFO Families founder and director Nicole Ashby said it was positive to see politicians recognising the challenges FIFO workers can face.
“Anything that can be done to raise the profile of mental health in the broader community is a positive step,” she said.
“It is important for people to be able to recognise when their mental health is being compromised and to know where to seek effective assistance.
“The isolation and loneliness that can be experienced by FIFO workers and partners alike, whilst separated from loved ones and family for weeks on end, can be a challenge.”