Doing Work, Making Place: Labour Geography in Newman, Western Australia — ASN Events

Doing Work, Making Place: Labour Geography in Newman, Western Australia (16615)

Tom Barratt 1
  1. The University of Western Australia, MOUNT HAWTHORN, WA, Australia

This paper examines the relationship between work and place in the iron ore mining town of Newman, located in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia. The research uncovers how the town, its residents and work regimes shape the experience of living and working in the town. A weakness within the Labour Geography field which this paper seeks to address is an insufficient exploration of how the organisation of work and worker responses to changes in this organisation of work unmake, make and remake places.  It does so by exploring how the contextual and temporal development of this place (Newman) and how workers’ embedment in the place impact upon the organisation of work in Newman and on the town itself.

Changing work regimes in the Australian mining industry, as adopted in this town, have influenced workers’ and residents’ (two overlapping but not unified categories) relationship with the place. Work practices have been influenced by the advance and decline of union influence, the rising use of FIFO employment practices, subcontracting and changes to the nature of employment contracts. These factors, as well as the town’s embedment in the global iron ore industry, continue to influence the experience of both working and non-working life in the town.

Interview data reveals segmentation within the labour force with regard to workers’ embedment in place. FIFO workers are dis-embedded from the place, having strong attachments to distant places where they spend their non-work time. Residential workers can further be categorised as either shallowly embedded in the place, that is, looking to command high wages and then move elsewhere or as deeply embedded in the place with a long term commitment to the town which extends beyond work and earning money. Changing levels of worker embedment in a place has implications for how work is done, agency is exercised and how place is made as workers who are less embedded in the place have different priorities within the work relationship and change the nature of non-work life in the town.

This paper explores how workers’ relationship to place and work regimes influence the making, unmaking and remaking the place. It also considers how the spatial ‘solution’ of FIFO impacts upon work arrangements, workers’ engagement with the place, and how a specific portion of the labour force are able to fashion favourable geographies, even if it is a constrained form of agency.