Company towns located near the mining site, such as Elsa and Faro in the Yukon, are now just a site of old abandoned buildings or have continued to exist with a much smaller population after finding new ways to operate. This is generally the case worldwide as companies move away from building mining towns.
This is due to the fact that it is expensive for a company to run a full-fledged town, including the technical, social and cultural infrastructure needed to attract families. And the government is no longer willing to let companies build such towns since changing technologies mean shorter lifespans of the mining projects.
Today, FIFO and mobile shift work operations are the norm for the mining industry, bringing mobile workers from all over Canada and elsewhere to work at remote mining sites.
Mobile mine workers are, therefore, more flexible when it comes to a downturn in mining. They can more easily find a job in another place when the mine is (often suddenly) shut down.
The question remains, for nearby local communities, whether they can benefit from incoming mobile mine workers and FIFO camps. We heard from our interview partners that nearby communities want to avoid social problems that might come along with an influx of FIFO workers. While many of the local communities would welcome whole families to stay for a longer period, they are hesitant about an influx of single (young) men flying frequently into town, yet keeping their home residence in another province.
Henry from a small town asserts, “Actually, I don’t want my daughters to hang out with the miners, for example in front of the liquor store and so on. You never know. My girls are still young and have no experience with that kind of stuff.”
A local business person on the other hand said she would welcome having more of the FIFO people in her restaurant. She explains, “The local businesses could benefit a lot from the spin-off from mining and maybe we could have a hotel, a bunkhouse or a bar in town. This would also benefit the community.”
These examples reflect the pros and cons of FIFO work practices, which must be carefully balanced by local decision-makers and governments when a new operation comes to the region.
John, a local politician stresses, “We agreed with the company that they build their camp outside of town and that it is a dry camp, so that the folks are not attracted to come in to town and drink. Regardless of the potential economic benefits this is better for the social wellbeing in the community. It would be different if we were a larger place. We would have more facilities where the workers could spend their time off.”
John continues, “Since they operate on our land, we get compensation for what we lose economically if they were in town. For example, companies co-fund youth camps, sports facilities or cultural activities, have stipends for training and education for our youth and so on.”
The companies usually have strict rules when it comes to troubles caused by workers in the nearby community. If workers cause issues they risk losing their jobs.
In some situations, FIFO camps are located at a far distance from communities and the FIFO work force is bussed to and from the next airport. In these situations, there is usually very little interaction between FIFO workers and nearby communities.
You know, sometimes I go for a hunt when I stay here in the village during my off-shift. Sometimes I do that. I work with the folks from the First Nation here and we are friends. So they take me on a hunt from time to time. It’s a lot of fun. Robert
You know, the local people want the camp to be outside of the village, because of social issues with the incoming workers. I mean they think there will be troubles, but we, the workers, are not as bad as they probably think. Jeremy
You know I liked to hang out with the miners, I was young and it was fun. The village is so boring anyways. It was great, I had a good time. Katelyn
There was a big international company here and the folks were told not to go into town and party and bother any girls. They would get fired right away. I think this was a deal with the community, it was part of the contract. Jessica
In the last years there were lots of drillers and other skilled work-force. They came in for a dinner from time to time. Back in the days it was not so highly regulated. Now they often cannot go out of camp at night and they do not have their own vehicle up here. Economically for me it would be a good thing if I had more customers. Marcus