SIX-FIGURE salaries aren't enough to stop one in three fly-in, fly-out workers from quitting within a year at mine sites across Western Australia, a parliamentary hearing into the industry will be to this week.
Problems with attrition rates, a culture of hard-drug abuse and the lack of family-friendly rosters will be key themes raised during the Perth hearings by the Federal Government's inquiry into FIFO practices in regional Australia.
Witnesses giving evidence will include the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy, the Australian Medical Association, Fortescue Metals, Chevron Australia and the WA Network of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies.
Several written submissions to the inquiry, including a report by the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, say the attrition rate for FIFO workers is now one in three within a year.
CME spokesman Bruce Campbell-Fraser said the chamber would give evidence that some mine sites suffered from a turnover rate even higher than that.
"Some sites achieve much lower numbers (of attrition) and some achieve a bit worse . . . it depends on factors like accommodation, camp life, flights, heat, even dust levels," Mr Campbell-Fraser said.
"But, there is no doubt that retention of the workforce is a key focus for everyone in the sector."
Mr Campbell-Fraser said in recent years there had been a dramatic improvement in accommodation for FIFO workers.
But unions representing FIFO workers told The Sunday Times a "prison camp" culture existed at many sites with "petty and demeaning" rules imposed on staff.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary for construction Dave Noonan said the attrition rate was much higher than one in three, but mining companies hid the true extent by often refusing to disclose figures or doctoring them.
Maritime Union of Australia spokesman Doug Heath said some sites, such as Chevron's $43 billion Gorgon Project on Barrow Island, had unrealistic expectations about what their employees could handle.
"(Workers) say their family lives suffer because the project can demand a roster of 26 days on and nine days off. It's a roster that has no regard for work/life balance," he said.
Alcohol and drug rules for Chevron employees on the Gorgon Project include a maximum of four mid-strength beers a person each day and daily random drug tests.
The beers are served to workers open so they can't be stored away.
Yet FIFO workers told The Sunday Times the beers were stockpiled anyway and consumed in binge-drinking sessions.
Mr Heath said urine tests by mining companies had contributed to an increase in the use of hard drugs by FIFO workers.
"We've seen a massive escalation in the use of hard drugs by workers rather than recreational drugs because they don't stay in the system as long," he said. "We're not condoning people being under the influence of marijuana, but you'd rather be working with someone who may smoke cannabis as opposed to someone who is off their head on methamphetamine."
Mr Heath also criticised the lack of occupational health and safety at mine sites.
The MUA sent a letter, dated April 5, to Chevron's head office outlining its "deep concerns" about occupational health and safety on the Gorgon project.
The 11-page letter, obtained by The Sunday Times, claims there was an incident at the site on March 21 that exposed "fundamental systematic" failures by management to look after staff.
Yesterday a Chevron spokeswoman said the company placed "the highest priority on the health and safety of our workforce" and was investigating how and why the March incident occurred.
"It is important to note that no one was injured during the incident the MUA is referring to, however Chevron treats all incidents very seriously," she said.
Chevron would not release figures on the number of employees who had breached their drug and alcohol rules since the project started nearly two years ago.