Western Australia: the culture of sexual abuse in the mining industry “repugnant and systematic”, finds a survey

After an investigation that lasted nearly a year, a committee led by state lawmakers detailed the widespread sexual harassment, degradation, assault and threats of rape among female workers in the industry, describing a “cover-up culture” in which ” sexual harassment is generally accepted or overlooked. ”

Many of the women who questioned the investigation said it was “their first time sharing their experiences,” while state police forces told the committee that they had investigated 23 reports of sexual assaults at mining sites over the past two. years .

In one report, an unnamed worker shared the story of being “passed out unconscious” in her temporary accommodation at a mining site, only to wake up with her “jeans and underwear around her ankles.”

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

In another request, a contractor detailed how her site supervisor told her she would have to have sex with him to conduct a security investigation that she was involved in “getting away”.

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

Numerous reports of “horrific sexual assaults” and of men imposing themselves on women in the workplace, taking off their clothes in front of colleagues, placing sex dolls in their temporary quarters, stalking them, and texting “explicit and obscene” material without consent, they were also detailed.

Several mining and fossil fuel companies, including BHP (BBL)Energy of the forest, Rio Tinto (RIO) And Fortescue Metalli Group (FSUGY)were mentioned in the report in connection with multiple allegations of sexual assault on their sites or by their workers.
In statements sent to CNN, Rio Tinto, which commissioned its own review of workplace bullying and sexual harassment earlier this year, said it had supported the investigation from the start and was studying the recommendations. of the report, while Elizabeth Gaines, CEO of the Fortescue Metals Group, reaffirmed the “zero tolerance approach” to sexual harassment.

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

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

The committee said the mining companies “were generally open and open in their approach to the investigation” and many of those named indicated “incidents in which they had taken decisive action” to fire sex offenders.

The women interviewed for the investigation reported, however, that in many cases the perpetrators of sexual assaults “simply changed job sites or were hired in the industry with another company.”

“Mining companies … expressed shocks at the scale of the problem and recognized the need to urgently address cultural change. As a committee we were shocked by the facts, but we are also surprised that companies can be so surprised.” the report states.

One of the central issues identified in the investigation was concern over the allegation of sexual harassment.

“We have heard of the distrust and lack of trust that many employees had in existing hierarchical management structures: the lack of trust is an obvious obstacle to reporting these issues,” the committee noted, adding that it was critical that “a range of both internal and external reporting options have been made accessible to workers in the future.

The Department of Mines, Industry, Regulatory and Safety, the industry regulator, told the committee that it had received only 22 reports of sexual assaults at mining sites in the past seven years.

of 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 its remote location, the miners working at the sites are known colloquially as “FIFO”, a reference to the “fly-in-fly-out” nature of their program.

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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 alcohol and drug abuse, gender inequality, power inequality and “aggressive relationships. between man-man “.

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

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

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

The Western Australian resource sector recorded a record 210 billion Australian dollars ($ 145 billion) of sales in fiscal year 2020-21. The state sealed its borders for most of the pandemic to keep the sector operational.