Western Australia: Culture of mining sexual abuse ‘repulsive and systemic’, study finds

after a research of almost a year, a commission led by state lawmakers described widespread sexual harassment, humiliation, assault and threats of rape among female industry workers, describing a “culture of cover-up” in which “sexual harassment is widely accepted or overlooked.”

Many of the women who took part in the survey said it was “the first time they talked about their experiences,” while state police told the commission they had investigated 23 reports of sexual assault on mining sites in the past two years. †

In one account, an unnamed female employee shared a story that she was “beaten unconscious” in her temporary accommodation at a mining site, only to wake up with “jeans and knickers around her ankles.”

“‘I felt sick, ashamed, violated, dirty and very confused,'” she said in her testimony.

In another entry, a female contractor explained how her site supervisor told her to have sex with him in order to do a security investigation that involved her “go away.”

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

Countless stories of “horrific sexual assault” and of men imposing themselves on women in the workplace, taking off their clothes in front of colleagues, placing sex dolls in temporary shelters, stalking them and texting them with “explicit and lewd” material without permission, were also detailed.

Several mining and fossil fuel companies, including: BHP BBLwoodside energy, Rio Tinto Rio and Fortescue Metals Group FSUGIAwere named in the report in connection with multiple allegations of sexual assault at their sites or by their employees.
In statements to CNN, Rio Tinto – who commissioned its own review into bullying and sexual harassment at work earlier this year — said it supported the investigation from the start and would study the report’s recommendations, while Elizabeth Gaines, CEO of Fortescue Metals Group, reaffirmed the “zero tolerance approach” to sexual harassment.

A Woodside Energy spokesperson said the oil and gas major is committed to providing a “safe work environment” for employees and that “everyone in the industry should do better”.

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

The commission said mining companies were “generally candid and open in their approach to the investigation,” and several of the individuals named pointed to “incidents where they took decisive action” to fire sex offenders.

However, women interviewed for the study reported that, in many cases, the perpetrators of sexual assaults “just changed workplaces or were rehired in the industry at another company.”

“Mining companies… expressed shock at the magnitude of the problem and recognized the need to urgently address cultural 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 central issues raised in the study was concerns about reporting sexual harassment.

“We heard about the mistrust and lack of trust that many employees had in existing hierarchical management structures – a lack of trust is a clear barrier to reporting these issues,” the committee noted, adding that it was integral that “a number of reporting capabilities” both internally and externally, were made accessible to future employees.

The Ministry of Mines, Industry, Regulations and Security – the industry’s regulatory body – told the commission it had received just 22 reports of sexual assault on mining sites in the past seven years.

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

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The report found that FIFO workplaces had “most, if not all, of the major risk factors for sexual harassment,” due to the abuse of alcohol and drugs, gender inequality, power differences and “aggressive relationships between men and men.”

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

The committee made a number of recommendations in response to its findings, including “setting industry standards for accommodation facilities, CCTV, [better] lighting and other safety measures, as well as more moderate drinking standards” on mining sites.

At both the state and federal levels, Australia’s mining industry is known for its unparalleled political power, thanks to the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and the export of minerals — such as iron ore and coal — to power its economy.

Western Australia’s resource sector reported a record 210 billion Australian dollars ($145 billion) of FY 2020-21 revenue. The state has closed its borders for most of the pandemic to keep the industry going.

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