Western Australia: Culture of sexual abuse in mining industry ‘abhorrent and systemic’, finds inquiry

After nearly a year of investigation, a committee led by state lawmakers has detailed widespread sexual harassment, humiliation, assault and threats of rape among women workers in the industry, describing a “culture of cover-up” in which “sexual harassment is widely accepted or overlooked. ”

Many of the women who spoke out at the inquiry said it was “the first time they have shared their experiences,” while state police told the committee they had received 23 reports of sexual assault in the past two years examined mines.

In one report, an unnamed worker told how she was “beaten unconscious” at her temporary accommodation at a mining site, only to wake up with “jeans and briefs around her ankles.”

“‘I felt sick, embarrassed, hurt, dirty and very confused,'” she said in her statement.

In another filing, a contractor explained how her construction manager told her she had to have sex with him to “walk away” from a safety investigation she was involved in.

The same woman was later told that she would have to “get on her knees” if she wanted a full-time job in the mines, according to her submission.

Numerous reports of “horrific sexual assault” and of men forcing themselves on women in the workplace, stripping in front of co-workers, placing sex dolls in their temporary accommodation, stalking them and texting “explicit and lewd” material without consent have also been detailed.

Several mining and fossil fuel companies including BHP (BBL)woodside Energy, Rio Tinto (RIO) and Fortescue Metals Group (FSUGY)were mentioned in the report in connection with multiple allegations of sexual assault at their sites or by their employees.
In statements to CNN, Rio Tinto — which earlier this year commissioned its own investigation into workplace bullying and sexual harassment — said it supported the investigation from the start and would consider the report’s recommendations, while Fortescue CEO Elizabeth Gaines Metals Group, the company’s affirmed “zero tolerance” approach to sexual harassment.

A spokesman for Woodside Energy said the oil and gas company is committed to providing employees with a “safe working environment” and that “everyone in the industry needs to do better.”

CNN has reached out to all of the companies named in the report for comment.

The committee said mining companies were “generally accommodating and open in their approach to the investigation,” and several of those named cited “incidents where they acted decisively” to release sex offenders.

However, women interviewed for the research reported that in many cases, the perpetrators of sexual assault “were merely changing jobs or rehiring in the industry at another company.”

“Mining companies … expressed shock at the scale of the problem and recognized the urgent need to address culture change. As a committee, we were shocked by the facts, but also surprised that companies could be so surprised,” the report said.

One of the key issues identified in the research was the concern of reporting sexual harassment.

“We have heard of the distrust and lack of trust in existing hierarchical management structures by many employees – a lack of trust is an apparent barrier to reporting these issues,” the committee noted, adding that it was essential that “a range of reporting options” both internal and external, were made available to workers in the future.

The Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety – the industry’s regulator – told the committee it had received just 22 reports of sexual assault on mine sites in the past seven years.

Western Australia The mining industry is concentrated in the Pilbara, a desert region in the far north of the state that borders the Indian Ocean. Due to the remote location, miners working at the sites are colloquially known as “FIFOs” – a reference to the “fly-in-fly-out” nature of their schedule.

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The report found that FIFO jobs “exposed most, if not all, of the major risk factors for sexual harassment” due to alcohol and drug abuse, gender inequality, power differences, and “aggressive male-male peer relationships.”

“The nature of FIFO can foster a culture at some mine sites of ‘what happens in camp, stays in camp’. This, along with heavy drinking, is a recipe for harassment,” one woman said in her post.

The committee issued a number of recommendations in response to its findings, including “setting industry standards for lodging, video surveillance, [better] lighting and other safety measures, and “more moderate drinking habits” at mining sites.

At both state and federal levels, Australia’s mining industry is known for its unparalleled political clout, as the country relies on fossil fuels and mineral exports – like iron ore and coal – to fuel its economy.

Western Australia’s resource sector reported a record AUD 210 billion ($145 billion) revenue in fiscal 2020-21. The state has sealed off its borders for most of the pandemic to keep the industry running.

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