Deadly cost of six-figure job
HEARING of suicides every week, knowing their relationship is breaking down - but having no reception to even try and fix it - and watching their mates spiral into alcohol and drug addiction is all in a day's work for our Aussie miners.
But as the limping industry picks up again, and global companies including BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue start construction on new mines, a lot of Aussies who made those exact companies millions of dollars aren't as ready to jump on a plane.
Five years ago, Australia was in the middle of one of its biggest mining booms in history.
Thousands of young men became fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers, spending four weeks battling through 12 hour days and then jetting back home for a few days to see their families - before doing it all over again.
The salary was great, often cracking more than $150,000, but the sacrifice was even greater.
The FIFO profession earnt itself such a bad reputation that a number of Aussies who worked in the first boom have said there's no way they'd go back again.
One of those is Gold Coast local Ryan who spent the past five years working in mines across Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Ryan calls himself "one of the lucky ones" because he was able to get out of the industry without developing a severe mental illness or landing himself in massive financial debt.
"Things didn't get too crazy for me, I had one relationship breakdown but that was it for me," he told news.com.au.
Certified as a dual ticketed rigger scaffolder, a job that saw him earning at least $3000 a week, Ryan left the FIFO life in January.
"It's a proven fact that if you're FIFO for longer than two years there's a three in four chance your relationship will go bust.
"You get the few blokes out there that love working away because they have no ties at home but mostly everyone does not want to work that long away anymore. I think it should be illegal to work for four weeks straight.
"The average family man doesn't want to be away for three to four weeks, away from their kids and missing important events. It's hard," he said.
In Ryan's five years as a FIFO worker he said he'd heard of at least a dozen suicides and had been on the same site of seven men who took their own lives.
Ryan said Western Australia, known for having some of the nation's most remote mines and bad working culture, was the worst place to work.
"It's so bad in Western Australia, it's so isolated and the heat and conditions are so intense," he said.
"The camps are also so s**t. They're seriously like a big walk in wardrobe with a bed, a closet and a little computer screen for a TV and outside your window is just dirt. Nothing else."
Ryan said one of the biggest problems out there was the lack of reception and internet, meaning workers are often in total isolation and completely alone with their thoughts.
"You're out there for three to four weeks with f**k all reception, the worst internet possible, you need a strong mind for that.," he said.
"A lot of the males don't like to talk too much but they do provide you with all the Lifeline numbers and counsellors you can call anonymously but it's not enough.
"The reception is so bad out there you can barely call your partners, let alone Lifeline."
The conditions are also notoriously tough, especially in Western Australia where workers have to compete with the heat and cyclones.
"One time I was working off the coast of the Pilbara region and a cyclone came. We were staying on a dry-dock cruise liner because there weren't enough cribs on land to fit everyone," he said.
"The cyclone was so bad they had to put the ship in the water and sail a few kilometres out to sea into the Indian Ocean.
"For five days, we were sitting in cyclonic waters, from a Category Four storm with no phone reception and no TV. There were 1500 guys on there and they ran out of seasick pills in the first six hours. It was horrific."
Even working in Darwin, where the workers were stationed less than 20 minutes outside of the city, Ryan heard of two men taking their lives.
"No matter where you are, it's a physical job. You're out in the element all day long, they encourage drink breaks but all the breaks in the world won't beat that heat," he said.
"It can be quite taxing for sure."
'PLENTY OF PEOPLE WANT THESE JOBS'
From 2012 to 2016, the mining industry experienced a severe downturn, culling close to 60,000 jobs and making full-time work almost impossible to come by.
But the latest data from SEEK has shown that the mining industry is picking up again with the sector putting out 32 per cent more jobs this June than it did for June 2017.
Earlier this week, the WA's Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Paul Everingham backed a migration agreement intended to combat a severe skills shortage in the mining region of the Goldfields.
If approved, the Designated Area Migration Agreement would allow overseas workers to be flown over to work in the mines and would make them exempt from the skilled migrants requirement.
Mr Everingham told the ABC there were more than 1000 vacancies in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder mining sector and said the region was at crisis point.
"You can't sugar coat that - they're available now and they're not being filled, so however you can get them (workers)," he said.
"All Australian companies want to employ Australians first, but if there aren't enough Australians … we have got to remember there's an infrastructure boom going on in NSW.
"So if we have to set up special immigration or work zones, our members would definitely welcome the ability to get access to skilled workers immediately."
But hundreds of Aussies took to Facebook yesterday to protest Mr Everingham's comments, claiming they're being forced out by foreigners on 457 visas.
A Facebook group called "What Happened to Australia?" wrote: "Many people said their job applications were turned down, despite previous experience. Aussies want the jobs but mining companies have been rorting the visa system for years to save money. The government does nothing as usual."
"I know multiple people who have applied to work in the mines, myself included, and get rejected, so it's not that Aussies don't want them, it's that the mining company's don't want Aussies," Stuart Lightman added.
As more migrant workers are flown in to pick up mining jobs, conditions and pay have also begun to deteriorate.
According to Ryan, he and his friends were only out there for the money, which isn't what it used to be.
"It's all about the bottom line, big companies making their cash, hitting their quotas. As long as they hit their deadlines and get the job done, the welfare of workers takes a back seat," he said.
"The government is getting rid of penalty rates and if you're full time there that's where you make most of your money."
FIFOs used to generally earn about $40 for a regular hour, then $60 each hour per shift after they'd worked eight hours.
On weekends, they were paid double time at about $80 an hour and many Aussies came to depend on that huge salary.
But companies have cut back, offering workers a flat rate of $55 an hour, no matter how long or what day you work.
Recent data from SEEK also found, despite the mining industry still being the highest paid in Australia for average salaries, paychecks have dropped.
An average salary for someone working in the mining industry is $116,000 now, a drop of 13.96 per cent from five years ago.
Ryan said he believes the stark drop is directly related to workers losing rights.
"The more migrant workers that come in makes things difficult. They'd say yes to anything, they don't give a f**k," he said.
"But for anyone, whether they're Aussie or not, making someone work for 28 days with only a few off isn't good for the worker and it definitely isn't good for the family they've left behind."
If you or anyone you know are experiencing mental health issues or need help, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For help with depression, please see Beyond Blue for a list of organisations that can help.