'Fly in, fly out' workers' absence hard on families

By Amelia Wade

Mirianna McGregor and her husband Robert fly in fly out husband. Photo / Supplied
Mirianna McGregor and her husband Robert fly in fly out husband. Photo / Supplied

Even after seven years of her husband flying to Australia to work in the mines for a month at a time, Mirianna McGregor still gets upset every time he leaves. And she still gets excited when he comes back home.

Robert McGregor is a driller in Darwin and is one of the "fly in, fly out" or "fifo" workers - an increasingly popular career for New Zealanders.

He works for a month at a time before flying home, at the expense of his employer, to his family in Manawatu for a fortnight.

"It's hard, no matter how long you've been doing it. It's really, really tough and can get lonely. I think some people don't realise how hard it is," Mrs McGregor said. "When he leaves I still get upset."

Mr McGregor got home from his latest stint in Darwin on Tuesday.

His work schedule wasn't always as kind as it is now. When he was an offsider and training to be a driller, he had to pay for his own flights and worked in three-month stints.

He has also worked in Queensland and New South Wales.

Mr McGregor got into "fifo" mining work when he couldn't find a job as a fencer in Hawkes Bay during the recession.

"He didn't want to live in Australia and I had family support over here - it just seemed to work for us," Mrs McGregor said.

Most people went into the mines with a plan: that they would do it for only a few years until they were financially secure.

But that was often not the case, she said.

"The money is too good. The ones that do get out after five years, good on them, but almost all of them never leave it because the money is just too damn good."

The couple have no plans to change their lifestyle.

Mr McGregor earns at least $120,000 a year - Mrs McGregor was not sure of the exact amount - and has been able to put their son and two daughters through an exclusive boarding school and pay for their daughters to go to university.

Until last year, Mrs McGregor worked, but this year she has decided to go back to university and is studying for a bachelor of arts with a double major in anthropology and sociology at Victoria University.

When Mr McGregor is away, she still finds it tough, even though they talk every night by Skype or phone.

"It's hard because you don't want to worry them, but you want them to be part of the family life. Communication is a really hard one and it takes a while to sort it out.

"Even when they get home, it takes a bit of adjustment because it upsets your routine and you've got to get used to having them back again. But you work around it and it takes time to try and deal with all of it."

Mrs McGregor said not every family was suited for "fifo" work, especially if a marriage was new and a couple were young or had small children.

"Everyone talks about the money. But there's a lot of sacrifices that you have to make and not every family can do this.

"We're in our mid to late 40s now and when we started we were in our 40s. I think if we were in our 30s, this wouldn't have worked, our marriage was too fresh to survive this.

"But because we were older and our children were off to college, it seemed like the right time for it to work."

Mrs McGregor would recommend the lifestyle to young, single people who did not have an attachment.

- NZ Herald

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