Could the resource sector use travel bubbles for FIFO workers in WA?

Mining giants have opened discussions for travel bubbles for FIFO workers in WA to keep industry moving as COVID-19 outbreaks continue to ravage the east coast.

Parts of Victoria including Metro Melbourne suburbs are already back under Stage 3 restrictions while people who have travelled to pockets of NSW including some Western Sydney suburbs are being denied access to other states.

Victoria (5942 cases*) and New South Wales (3588 cases) lead the country when it comes to COVID-19 infections and other states and territories have reacted by limiting and restricting travel in a bid to prevent infections spreading even further.

Western Australia this week announced a ban on all travel from NSW residents, including FIFO workers, unless they have special exemptions. Victorians were already banned following the recent spike of clusters of COVID-19.

Fearing a slowdown on major projects, mining and resources companies are investigating whether travel bubbles – which have allowed AFL matches in front of crowds to be played in Perth and Adelaide in the last week – could be a viable solution.

Under a potential proposal, workers would fly in from the east coast of Australia, but would not need to quarantine. They would be immediately transferred to a private plane and taken straight to the mine or project site where they would work and stay separate from local workers. It would mean they would be exempt from any 14 day quarantine periods as well.


Chamber of Minerals and Energy director Rob Carruthers said at this stage FIFO bubbles were being discussed as a contingency plan to avoid major shutdowns

“Industry’s first priority is to protect the health of our workforce and the WA community. We won’t put that at risk,” he said.

“That said, CME and its members are in regular contact with the WA Government on potential contingency plans to ensure critical works can occur on the basis that the State border will up for longer than anticipated.

“We’ll continue work within the Government’s guidance in this rapidly evolving situation. This includes management plan type approaches for major shutdowns.”


AMA (WA) President Dr Andrew Miller said any FIFO bubble plan would carry risks that could see more COVID-19 spikes in WA

“What we know is that virus only has to find one weak part in our system in order to get through and out to the greenfields on the other side and spread rapidly, particularly in WA where we have got a very open society,” he said.

“Victoria was a lot more locked down than we were when the spread occurred there and in fact, the spread has been still occurring there despite those postcodes having been locked down relatively early – it still spread after that.

“So even if there is one hotel worker who doesn’t do the right thing or there is one plane that doesn’t get cleaned properly or there is one mine site where there is a breach (you run the risk of infection).

“One thing we do know about humans is they don’t all do the right thing all the time. It’s guaranteed that someone is going to do the wrong thing, even if it is accidental and there is no bad intent in it.”

Dr Miller said each proposal would need to be viewed and approved or denied on a case-by-case basis.

“You would have to look at each proposal specifically because every proposal has its weaknesses as we saw in Victoria where it was the security guards going to and from the hotel that seemed to have first got that out into the community,” he said.

“But that wasn’t the only thing that failed, there was a whole lot of people from that point on who weren’t following the basic social distancing and hygiene things and that’s how it spread around.”


WA Premier Mark McGowan has not backed a FIFO bubble, though, instead urging mining and resources companies to employ more WA locals.

“WA workers should be first in line,” he said in response to the suggestion of FIFO bubbles.

“The FIFO workforce from the east, I think it’s time that ended,” The Premier told reporters on Tuesday.

“I understand FIFO from Perth to a mine site, if there’s no town nearby, but I don’t understand FIFO from Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane.

“We need to come to a new arrangement.”

However, back in May, The Premier announced that he had met with the Chamber of Minerals and Energy to implement a plan to move FIFO workers to the west permanently.

“Each week (prior to COVID-19) thousands of FIFO workers fly in from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane,” he said.

“There is now a huge opportunity to get those people to come and live here permanently.”

The Premier said at the time they were working on incentives including housing in regional areas to entice big-spending FIFO families to move to WA fulltime.

“What we want to do out of the COVID crisis is make sure our great state is stronger and more resilient and that means if all of those people who have those high-paying job, or at least some of them, come to live here that will be a big advantage to us,” he said.

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