Future-proofing your family against the "blood bath" in Australia's oil and gas industry

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Deb Russo is a FIFO wife of the offshore kind. Her husband works on oil rigs and vessels. Typically, he does a four-week-on and four-week-off roster. They've lived their entire 14-year relationship like this. Initially Deb's husband was in the Navy, then he shifted to work in the mines and did the 28/7 roster (Deb's least favourite!) With this offshore roster, though, she wouldn’t change a thing.

According to reports, former Rio Tinto boss Tom Albanese believes the commodity downturn has reached the bottom of the trough and is on its way up again.

Yet here I am writing a piece on how to prepare for tough times in the offshore industry. 

The global oil crash has seen many overseas and Australian companies axe their exploration budgets, and this includes exploration in Australia. The shelving of Woodside's floating LNG project in the Browse Basin is a massive indicator of the current economic climate.

Oil and gas industry players are making major capital funding cuts, selling off non-cash producing assets, curtailing new projects at the design phase and keeping their focus on their onshore cash-producing projects. Offshore production remains, but some jobs are now considered 'non-critical', so contracts aren't being renewed for many local and expatriate staff.

Add to that the current battle between unions and the government over standards and conditions within the Australian maritime and offshore industry, and job security is almost non-existent. As one industry insider said: "There is a blood bath going on."

At this stage, my husband has no contract after August because there are no new contracts available. With exploration at a standstill, construction work has ceased and rigs and vessels are being operated by skeleton staff. Many of his colleagues are also without work and hold little hope of returning to the industry.

So what to do? Prepare! We have 20 weeks to put a plan into action. My husband loves this industry and it's become a way of life for us, but reality is setting in and we've decided it's better to be safe than sorry.

If you're in the same boat, here's what I'd recommend:

  • Don't sit on your hands. 
  • Work-wise, update all your tickets. Up-skill and diversify where and while you can. Make yourself as employable as possible.
  • At home, tidy yourself up financially. Tighten your budget. Ensure your savings are enough to tide the family over until you win a new contract or a job at home. Consider downsizing "stuff" and perhaps living on a smaller budget. 
  • Revisit your financial adviser (ask friends for recommendations if you don't have one already).
  • Get a second job in your "off" time, even just a part-time role. This is particularly important for FIFO workers like my husband, who's always worked in defence or offshore roles, so has never really been able to demonstrate his work ethic to local employers. This month he started working with me in an avocado farm, not only to bolster the savings but to make some connections.

If August comes and we have a new FIFO contract, all well and good. We'll be in an even better place for tightening our budget now.

More columns from Oil & Gas Mum Deb Russo:

Check out Deb's daily blog at www.thefifowife.com.au and if you've got any questions for her, please click here.

And here's another oil and gas couple's advice on making FIFO family life work when you're working offshore