Sunday sessions’ back in rural Queensland as construction workers restricted to six-day week

By Belinda Sanders

Man and woman behind the bar of a country pub
Stephen O’Donnel and Jaimee Neilsen run two pubs in the Western Downs regional council area benefiting from the new Sunday custom.(Supplied: Jaimee Nielsen
Workers in rural Queensland are being forced to enjoy a “Sunday session”, and it’s creating a cash bonanza for local towns.

Energy construction is booming, with the Western Downs Regional Council approving 23 solar farms and three wind farms.

But it comes with a catch. Crews must work a six-day week and have Sundays off.

Traditionally, the energy companies had a seven-day-a-week roster with workers having weeks-on followed by weeks-off.

“After a hard week’s work, on Sunday, they can go to the football or the pub or one of the parks,” Mayor Paul McVeigh said.

The Sundays-off policy has even encouraged contract staff to move their families to the area permanently.

family group playing on and around a giant watermelon in Chinchilla
The giant Watermelon in Chinchilla is popular with families.(Supplied: Western Downs Regional Council)

Publican Jaimee Neilsen said the return of the Sunday session socialising tradition had been a huge bonus for the tiny town of Miles.

“We’ve noticed at the Windsor Hotel, the Wandoan construction crew would come down for brunch and then go over the road to the bottle shop and then you’d see them walking down the street going into other hotels,” Ms Neilsen said.

Valuable lessons learned

Growth in coal seam gas in Queensland has been rapid over the past 15 years, peaking at 1,634 wells being drilled in 2013–14.

During that peak, companies wanted to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get the job done quickly.

Cr McVeigh said the council learnt a valuable lesson from that period.

“This is about being part of our community,” he said.

“Those that are working on the construction of solar farms do need a day off, and it’s amazing how that contribution is making a difference.

“Some are actually staying and living in our community.”

Initially, renewable energy companies opposed the policy because they wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible.

However, Cr McVeigh said the corporate sector was now well and truly on board.

“Time is money, but it’s the value of that time,” he said.

“Once we implemented it, we have had so many reports that it’s such a benefit because their crews are fresher. They are becoming part of our community.

“Our cafes and pubs and restaurants have seen a tremendous benefit.

“Sundays are the day everyone slows down a bit. The families of the workers are having a weekend with their partners instead of leaving our region to spend with family.”

family walking through historical village in Miles
Sunday’s are ideal for exploring local attractions like the Miles Historical Village.(Supplied: Western Downs Regional Council)

Miles, 127 kilometres west of Dalby, has a population of 1,800 people, but the Windsor Hotel serves an impressive 700 meals a week.

“That’s just our little hotel, without even poker machines, so there is definitely an eating frenzy, so to speak,” Ms Neilsen said.

“I think it’s a good idea. People attract people, so if you are open more will come.”