Sexual harassment 'rife at WA mine sites'

·2-min read

Dozens of women have reported being sexually harassed on West Australian mine sites but the big miners concede the true number of cases is likely to be higher.

Mining giants BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group have painted a grim picture of life for women on fly-in, fly-out mine sites in submissions to a West Australian parliamentary inquiry.

BHP has revealed it has sacked 48 FIFO workers over the past two years for sexually harassing their colleagues.

A further 25 harassment allegations were substantiated over the same period, as were six allegations of sexual assault.

A handful of assault allegations were not resolved because the alleged perpetrator couldn't be identified or had previously been sacked or the victim did not wish for BHP's investigation to continue.

"While we have made progress in encouraging reporting, we remain of the view based on workforce wide and industry specific data ... that we are likely still experiencing under-reporting for sexual harassment," BHP said in its submission.

"We have an ongoing program of work in place to continue to promote reporting."

Since January 1 2020, Rio Tinto said one reported FIFO sexual assault and 29 cases of sexual harassment had been substantiated.

Another assault allegation and 14 harassment allegations were under investigation.

"The trend towards greater reporting is encouraging as it reflects that those impacted, as well as bystanders, are increasingly comfortable to report an incident," Rio said, while noting that sexual harassment was generally under-reported.

FMG said 31 sexual harassment matters had been raised at its Pilbara sites since the start of 2020.

All three companies said they had worked to improve the safety of sites and had processes in place for employees to make confidential complaints.

Several women have come forward to police in recent months detailing claims of sexual assaults at major WA mines.

A survey conducted by the West Australian Mineworkers Alliance this month found almost one-in-four women in WA mining have experienced sexual assault at work.

About 20 per cent of respondents said they had been offered career advancement in exchange for sexual favours, while two-thirds had experienced verbal sexual harassment. Many said they were wary of raising complaints with their managers.

The alliance, led by the Australian Workers Union and CFMEU, says an independent oversight body is "urgently needed" so workers can raise complaints without fear of retaliation or blacklisting.

WA's Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety said companies were obliged to report problems at mine sites and it was "disturbing" that some historical sexual assault allegations had first been aired in the media.

"This situation is unacceptable and, in some instances, may represent contraventions of the (Mines Safety and Inspection) Act," the regulator said in its submission.

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