Academic journal article Rural Society

Long-Distance Commuting and Dispersed Socio-Economic Benefits of Connectivity

Academic journal article Rural Society

Long-Distance Commuting and Dispersed Socio-Economic Benefits of Connectivity

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite Australia being a highly urbanised nation with almost 90% of its 24.5 million population living in urban areas (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016), its economic history has been dominated by staples industries, principally mining and agriculture. Since the 1980s, policies that advocated trade liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation in an era of neoliberalism have transformed how Australian industries operate domestically and engage with global markets (Measham, Haslam McKenzie, Moffat, & Franks, 2013; Minifie, 2013). The most recent resources boom, which commenced in 2001 and lasted more than a decade, was in response to strong Asian demand, particularly from China.

Neo-liberal policy agendas have accelerated flexible production networks. Like most capitalist economies, a range of functions and services are no longer undertaken by government, but instead are provided by business enterprises and corporations which conduct their operations according to commercial principles (Ripepi, 2014). As a result, there has been widespread rationalisation and centralisation of services, especially in rural, regional and remote locations where economies of scale in service delivery are difficult to achieve. Consequently, the spatial re-organisation of the labour force has tended to follow suit; people choose to live where there are accessible services and high amenity, working compressed shifts (colloquially referred to as "block shifts"), in locations often considerable distance from home. Efficient transport networks underwritten by the private sector and advanced technological innovations enable this spatial reorganisation of the labour force.

The impact of the spatial reorganisation of the labour force is underscored by the phenomena of long-distance commuting (LDC). LDC is an encompassing term for a range of commuter work arrangements including fly-in/fly-out (FIFO), drive-in/driveout (DIDO), bus-in/bus-out (BIBO) and ferry-in/ferry-out (FEFO) (Haslam McKenzie & Hoath, 2014). The worksite is typically a considerable distance from workers' homes and often in remote places (Storey, 2010). Employees work for an extended roster of usually more than eight days and often several weeks, before returning home for an extended period of furlough and repeating the cycle. LDC is not new; it has been used by companies for nearly 50 years, but its pervasive practice and impact, particularly on small, non-metropolitan communities, has drawn considerable debate (Franks, Brereton, & Moran, 2013; House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia, 2013; Nicholas & Welters, 2017) and even ire amongst politicians, community leaders and media commentators.

Not all communities, however, are adversely affected by LDC. Some even thrive because of the practice. This article argues that more nuanced insights into the social and economic impacts of a peripatetic workforce has potential benefits for more carefully planned regional economic development strategies. The next section contextualises the utilisation of LDC as a workforce practice, particularly in the mining industry, and explains why it has become such a pervasive work arrangement. The debates regarding its impacts on social, community and regional economic development will also be considered. Following this, the three case-study communities which offered themselves as source communities will be introduced and the research methods used to conduct this research will be outlined. An assessment of the socio-economic impacts of a large mining company's regional employment initiative on the case-study sites, with a particular focus on the individual and community benefits, will be presented. To conclude, the key findings will be synthesised and the potential benefits for regional and community development will be discussed.

Literature review & theory

There has been considerable literature over many decades regarding worker mobility. …

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