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Western Australia: Culture of sexual abuse in the mining industry ‘disgusting and systemic’, the study finds

Written by Javed Iqbal

After one study lasting almost one year, a committee headed by state lawmakers described in detail widespread sexual harassment, degrading, assault and threats of rape among female workers in the industry, and described a “cover-up culture” in which “sexual harassment is generally accepted or overlooked.”

Many of the women who submitted submissions to the survey said it was “the first time they had told about their experiences”, while state police told the committee it had investigated 23 reports of sexual assaults at mining sites over the past two year. .

In one report, an unnamed female worker shared a story of being “knocked unconscious” in her temporary residence at a mining site, only to wake up with her “jeans and underpants around her ankles.”

“‘I felt sick, ashamed, offended, dirty and very confused,’ ‘she said in her testimony.

In another submission, a female contractor described how her supervisor told her she would have sex with him to conduct a safety check she was involved in, “walk away.”

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

Numerous reports of “horrific sexual assaults” and of men forcing women into the workplace, taking off their clothes in front of colleagues, putting sex dolls in their temporary residence, persecuting them and sending text messages with “explicit and obscene” material without consent were also 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 several allegations of sexual assault on their websites or by their employees.
In statements sent to CNN, Rio Tinto – as ordered his own review into bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace earlier this year – said it supported the study from the outset and would study the report’s recommendations, while Fortescue Metals Group CEO Elizabeth Gaines reaffirmed the company’s “zero-tolerance approach” to sexual harassment.

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

CNN has contacted all of the companies mentioned 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 mentioned pointed to “incidents where they had taken decisive steps” to dismiss sex offenders.

However, women interviewed for the study reported that in many cases, the perpetrators of sexual assault “simply changed jobs or were re-employed in the industry with another company.”

“Mining companies … expressed shock at the magnitude of the problem and recognized the need to address cultural change as soon as possible. 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 study was concern about reporting sexual harassment.

“We heard about the mistrust and lack of trust that many employees had in existing hierarchical management structures – lack of trust is an obvious barrier to reporting on these issues,” the committee found, adding that it was integrated that “a range of reporting options” Both internal and external, were made available to workers going forward.

The Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety – the industry regulator – told the committee that it had only received 22 reports of sexual assault at mining sites during the previous seven years.

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

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

“FIFO’s nature can in some mining sites promote a culture of ‘what happens in the camp stays in the camp’. This, combined with heavy drinking, is a recipe for harassment,” a woman said in her post.

The Committee presented a number of recommendations in response to its findings, including “Establishing Industry Standards for Accommodation Facilities, CCTV, [better] lighting and other safety measures as well as more moderate drinking standards “at mining sites.

At both the state and federal levels, Australia’s mining industry is known for its unique political power due to the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and mineral exports – such as iron ore and coal – to power the economy.

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

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Javed Iqbal

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