Post written by Nick Skilton
In Australia as we know, the Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) workforce is highly visible. But does it adequately represent the true nature of Australia’s mobile workforce? I contend that a broader definition than ‘FIFO’ is required. The terminology that I intend to employ in my research is distance labour. More so than current definitions attempting to describe industries wherein the labourer is geographically separated from their families and social networks for long periods of time (miners, truck drivers, circuit judges, nannies, remote sex workers, remote health care professionals etc.), I contend that a broader inclusive definition will allow researchers to make comparisons between a labour force that is more diverse than the current discursive environment allows.
Current definitions include FIFO as it is currently understood in relation to mining, or long-distance commuting as described by Green et al. (1999). Long-distance commuting in Britain, typified by Green et al. (1999), describes a person travelling between home and work on a weekly basis (often academics). There is similarity here to FIFO since employees are working away from home for longer than a typical employee, but often there are two homes (rather than temporary accommodation of FIFO) and the time away is still considerably less than the four weeks on, one week off (or variation thereof) rosters of FIFO mining workers. FIFO as a descriptor too has drawbacks since it is almost always applied within the mining industry, although there has recently been a shift in health professionals attempting to claim the terminology for themselves (Hart et al. 2013; Weeramanthri and Jancey 2013). Therefore, the use of ‘distance labour’ as a new terminology can encompass these existing discursive definitions and the types of labour they narrowly represent, whilst being inclusive of other types of labour that require a significant temporal and spatial dislocation. This gives space not only to multiple types of labour, but to similar travel experiences and challenges to work/life balance. I will employ distance labour to describe the three case studies being used in my thesis: miners, sex workers and health care professionals. I can then draw comparisons between otherwise seemingly disparate professions in my research into the ways intimacy is performed by couples when one partner is involved in distance labour.