Academic journal article Rural Society

"We're in This All Together": Community Impacts of Long-Distance Labour Commuting

Academic journal article Rural Society

"We're in This All Together": Community Impacts of Long-Distance Labour Commuting

Article excerpt


Rural and small town regions across the industrialized world have been undergoing significant transformations due to industrial and political restructuring since the early 1980s. These changes are defined by processes of disengagement by government and industry. Direct responsibility for community development and increasing flexible production fundamentally reshaped the social contract between workers and companies that had previously defined the relative stability and growth of the post-war period. Labour and economic development patterns shifted substantially as a by-product of these restructuring dynamics. A key change is growth of long distance labour commuting (LDLC). LDLC describes a situation where the workplace is isolated by a distance of at least 200 kilometres from the worker's home community (Öhman & Lindgren, 2003). Workers have become more flexible and are either bound by preference or economic circumstance to remain in-place. Worker mobility is a direct response to community economic decline and/or opportunity that is, in essence, placeless.

LDLC studies have focused upon a variety of areas, including social dynamics associated with mobility, factors motivating industry to pursue LDLC operations, high-risk behaviours, health and safety implications and employment and income benefits for workers (Di Milia & Bowden, 2007; Kinnear, Kabir, Mann, & Bricknell, 2013; Muller, Carter, & Williamson, 2008; Standing Committee on Regional Australia, 2013; Storey, 2001; Wagstaff & Sigstad Lie, 2011). A critical gap in the literature, however, concerns broader impacts and implications of LDLC on home and host communities (Markey, Storey, & Heisler, 2011), where home community refers to workers' permanent residence and host community refers to the place where people commute to work.

This article draws upon research in Mackenzie, British Columbia (BC), Canada, to explore broader impacts of LDLC on a home community. Mackenzie is one of BC's "instant towns", built in the late 1960s to house the workforce for a new regional forest industry (Halseth & Sullivan, 2002; Marchak, 1983). A significant economic downturn in Mackenzie beginning in early 2008 resulted in the closure of all major forest industry operations, sawmills and pulp and paper mills (Hoekstra, 2010). In response, many forest sector workers chose to engage in LDLC.

LDLC literature evidences the process has complex implications for workers, families and host communities which may be examined through the Mackenzie case study. First, the nature of LDLC often differed from past sedentary work experiences.Second,Mackenzieisanisolatedsmallcommunitywithclearlydefinedboundaries. Third, the turn to LDLC was sudden, intense and time limited. Finally, following the recovery of the local economy, most workers relinquished LDLC, which provided reflective distance from the experience. The Mackenzie case explores the complex process of LDLC, such as fly-over, drive-in and direct and indirect implications for the home community. Research limitations include the single case community focus, lack of longitudinal tracking of impacts and inclusion of only those commuting from Mackenzie, not those temporarily or permanently relocated.

In the next sections, the theoretical framework and key LDLC literature themes are followed by the case setting and a detailed overview of the research methods. Our findings focus on two core themes: (1) family and community dynamics; and (2) the capacity of community organizations. The article concludes with a discussion of research implications and recommendations for home communities experiencing LDLC, adding to the LDLC literature by revealing consequences of labour mobility on home communities. While much existing literature focuses on negative impacts, our findings clearly indicate positive outcomes for communities embracing LDLC opportunities as a way to maintain family and connections in home communities. …

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