In the first of a two-part series on mining, we examine the impact of fly-in, fly-out workforces on once-thriving regional centres.

It is the flipside to the multi-billion-dollar boom driving the economy.

With $174 billion of mining and infrastructure projects begun or approved, there is a stampede into Australia’s resources-rich regions, led by the surge in fly-in, fly-out or drive-in, drive-out workers.

But there is a price to pay – and researchers say it is being borne by small communities, workers and their families.

A submission by the Australian Research Council to the federal parliamentary inquiry into the increasing use of FIFO provides what it says is the most comprehensive insight yet into the hidden costs of the boom.

The submission, based on existing and yet-to-be-published research, highlights problems that include:

* Pressures and breakdowns in family relationships of workers who spend large amounts of time living away from home;

* Higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse and self-harm by non-resident workers. Researchers say they have been told workers are turning from marijuana to harder drugs such as ice while on leave;

* Concerns about fatigue-related accidents and deaths as workers drive home after days without a break. One in three now works more than 60 hours a week;

* Conditions at accommodation camps, which vary from five-star facilities with swimming pools for high-level staff such as geologists and chemists to dongas used for construction sub-contractors;

* A macho culture in camps leading to increased violence and discouraging women from the industry. The proportion of women fell from 15.7 per cent to 12.6 per cent between November 2010 and August this year;

* Unregulated prostitution and growing rates of sexually transmitted diseases;

* Social imbalances created by thousands of non-resident workers living at camps in, or on the edge of, existing towns;

* Shortage of housing and massive rental costs in mining towns;

* And loss of community involvement and facilities in mining towns.

Team leader Professor Kerry Carrington, head of the School of Justice at Brisbane’s QUT, said Australia now had about 150,000 non-resident workers including miners and those involved in construction and other support industries, and the figure was expected to hit 200,000 by 2015.

She said the rush to FIFO, DIDO and bussed and shipped workforces was one of the most profound social shifts the country had undergone. But it was happening without any real planning, monitoring or understanding of the long-term effects on people’s lives.

A group of angry miners’ wives will tomorrow challenge the boss of the world’s biggest resources company to come and see the damage being done to their towns and way of life.

A delegation of women from Dysart, Emerald, Moranbah and Blackwater will go to BHP Billiton’s Brisbane offices and hand over a letter asking chief executive Marius Kloppers to see first-hand the impact of work practices.

They are representing the “partners, friends and family” of 3500 workers at seven central Queensland mines run by Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance – half-owned by BHP – who recently voted 92 per cent to reject a new workplace agreement. The workers have begun rolling stoppages.

“It seems to be time that we stood up to be counted too,” said Renee Hughes, of Dysart, one of the leaders of the protest.

“Instead of sitting at home whingeing, we decided to do something about it. None of this is about money. It’s about protecting the quality of family life and being able to afford to live in these towns.”

The women say that as the resident population is increasingly outnumbered, the social fabric and local services start to disappear.

* Public hearings for the inquiry will be held in Cairns, Moranbah, Mackay and Brisbane in February.