Part of a family, part of a community

Each time Mark Anderson touches down in Busselton he’s greeted by a sight that makes the journey from the Pilbara worthwhile: his two-year-old son Chase beaming from ear to ear.

It gets even better when Mark walks across the tarmac to his wife Stacey and son. “Chase shouts, ‘Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad!’ That’s something very special to come home to,” says Mark.

Rio Tinto’s regional fly-in, fly-out programme (FIFO in the local vernacular) means Mark’s able to work in the north of Western Australia, where the mine site is located, yet live with his family 1,500 kilometres to the south in a beautiful beachside community.

Every second week Mark flies from his work in the Pilbara to his home in Busselton, where he spends seven wonderful days with his family doing regular family things.

Meet Mark Anderson: he explains how he balances work while preparing for the arrival of twins

It gives Mark time to bond with the aptly named Chase (the Energizer Bunny of the Anderson clan), help Stacey out around the house and put down roots into the community.

“Being a Rio Tinto FIFO worker enables me to enjoy quality time with my family,” says Mark, an ancillary operator at the West Angelas mine, located 120 kilometres north-west of Newman.

“I love to cook so when I’m off I take over from Stacey. At the moment I’m also building a cubby house for Chase, so we’re spending a fair bit of time at the hardware store,” says Mark.

Mark also uses the time off between shifts to participate in community activities and enjoy what’s on offer in the area.

Rio Tinto's fly-in, fly-out programme

Rio Tinto launched its regional fly-in, fly-out programme (FIFO) in 2006. Our people now fly to Pilbara sites from towns across Western Australia, including Busselton, Broome, Derby, Geraldton, Exmouth, Carnarvon and Albany.

In the last decade Rio Tinto’s workforce located in south-west Western Australia has grown from 80 to almost 700, making it our largest regional FIFO hub in the state.

Independent research completed in 2016 estimated that Rio Tinto’s regional spend of A$425 million created an additional economic stimulus of A$185 million and created 1,250 jobs in regional Western Australia.

“We live in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, so when I’m home I like to go four-wheel driving and fishing,” says Mark.

“We also love to visit the wineries near Margaret River. Busselton’s close to so many beautiful places you’re never stuck for something to do.”

Rio Tinto’s FIFO programme means Mark and his family have plenty of time devote to their hobbies and just enjoying each other’s company.

“Having a full week off work means we can spend quality time together as a family,” says Mark.

While the FIFO lifestyle has its drawbacks Stacey says it’s given their family many benefits, including a new home in a beautiful estate just outside the Busselton town centre.

Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth
Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth

“It’s a choice we made and we’re very happy,” says Stacey, who worked at Busselton’s Orana Cinemas before becoming a full-time mum.

“Juggling work and family life is hard for a young family,” says Stacey. “But Mark is with a good company and it enables us to make plans for the future. It’s worth it for the security.”

Mark and Stacey are expecting twins and the couple are grateful for the time off Rio Tinto provides him as part of its comprehensive parental leave programme.

“Rio Tinto has been good to us in regard to the twins,” says Mark. “It’s the sign of a good company.”

One of Pilbara's driverless trucks One of Pilbara's driverless trucks
Pilbara's driverless trucks

Technology allowing for a better work/life balance

Every dad or mum wants to spend quality time with his or her kids and find a balance between work, play and family time.

While there is no “one size fits all” solution to balancing work and family life, some of Rio Tinto’s employees enjoy the fly-in, fly-out option.

One of those is Jonathan Ward, a senior advisor, Operations Readiness, Technology and Sustainability.

Jonathan spends just over a week at one of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara mine sites helping the company deploy driverless trucks, followed by a week off in the state’s south west where he lives with his partner Katie and three children.

“I started a two-and-one roster (two weeks on, one week off) with Rio Tinto in 2004 for about eight years. I then shifted to an eight-and-six roster (eight days on, six days off) when I moved into the autonomous trucks role,” explains Jonathan or, as his mates call him, “Jonno”.

Meet Jonathan Ward: explains why working in the Pilbara but living in Perth works for him and his family.

“During my week off my focus is my family. I rarely do things solo. We go fishing and camping and skiing at the local dam. And the roster also allows us to take holidays in the eastern states or overseas. It’s a great roster and gives my family a great lifestyle.”

Jonno says for the first four years of her life his daughter Olivia thought he was a pilot.

“This year I was lucky enough to take her up to one of the mine sites for a family day so she now has a very good idea what her dad does for a living.”

Jonno is part of the team bringing driverless trucks and drills into the Pilbara, the heart of the Australian mining industry.

Jonathan Ward, with his partner Katie and three children Jonathan Ward, with his partner Katie and three children
Jonathan Ward, with his partner Katie and three children

“Rio Tinto is driving automation to drive production and safety. Ultimately Rio Tinto is creating a workplace where machines do the repetitive tasks and people make the important decisions. This puts frontline teams into safer environments, and enables the workforce to have more productive and rewarding roles within the mining industry.

Automation is also giving Rio Tinto’s people greater choice on where they live and work.

It means that a “driver” can work thousands of kilometres from the mines at Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth, where a highly skilled team now runs mines without having to be on site.

They can enjoy a stimulating, well-paid job in the mining industry yet live in a community with all the facilities needed for a growing family, such as schools, sporting clubs and hospitals.

Johnno and Alastair discuss how technology gives employees the opportunity to expand into new and diverse careers

According to Alastair Mathias, general manager Mining, Automation and Analytics, being able to drive trucks and operate machinery from thousands of kilometres away means that Rio Tinto’s team do not miss out on the lifestyle other workers take for granted.

“It allows people to have better connections with their family and their community while letting them to do the work in areas they’re interested in and develop their careers,” says Alastair.

Jonno believes workers should not fear automation. “Automation has given people the opportunity to transfer to different sites, move to other business units in the company or go to more family friendly rosters,” he says.

“Technology allows many people to enjoy a great work-life balance,” says Jonno.