‘Heinous and systemic’ culture of sex abuse in Australian mines, investigation finds

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

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

In one account, an anonymous worker shared the story of being “knocked out” in her temporary accommodation at a mining site, only to wake up with her “jeans and underpants around her ankles”.

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

In another submission, a female contractor explained how her site supervisor told her she would need to have sex with him in order to do a safety investigation she was involved in “go away”.

The same woman later learned that she “should get on her knees” if she wanted a full-time job in the mines, according to her statement.

Numerous accounts of ‘horrifying sexual assaults’ and men forcibly attacking women in the workplace, stripping their clothes in front of co-workers, placing sex dolls in their temporary accommodation, stalking them and texting containing “explicit and obscene” content 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 workers.
In statements sent to CNN, Rio Tinto – which commissioned its own review of bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace earlier this year – said it has supported the investigation since its inception and will study the recommendations. of the report, while Fortescue Metals Group CEO Elizabeth Gaines reaffirmed the company. “zero tolerance approach” to sexual harassment.

A spokesperson 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 named in the report for comment.

The committee said mining companies “were generally open and forthcoming in their approach to investigation”, and several of those named reported “incidents where they took decisive action” to terminate sex offenders.

Women interviewed in the survey, however, indicated that in many cases the perpetrators of sexual assault “simply changed places of work or were rehired in the industry with another company”.

“Mining companies…expressed their shock 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 also surprised that companies could be so surprised,” the report said.

One of the central issues identified in the survey was the concern about reporting sexual harassment.

“We heard of the distrust and lack of trust that many employees have in existing line management structures – a lack of trust is a clear barrier to reporting these issues,” the committee found, adding that it was essential that “a number of reporting options” both internal and external, have been made available to workers of the future.

The Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety – the industry’s regulator – told the committee it had received only 22 reports of sexual assaults at mining sites. over 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 its remote location, miners working at the sites are known colloquially as “FIFOs” – a reference to the “fly-in-fly-out” nature of their schedule.

Australia supports coal

The report found that FIFO workplaces “displayed most if not all of the main risk factors for sexual harassment”, due to alcohol and drug abuse, gender inequality, gender disparities power and “aggressive relations between men and women”.

“The nature of FIFO can, at some mine sites, promote a culture of ‘what happens in camp, stays in camp’. This, coupled with heavy drinking, is a recipe for harassment,” said a woman in his memory.

The committee made a number of recommendations in response to its findings, including “the establishment of industry standards for accommodation facilities, video surveillance, [better] lighting and other safety measures as well as more moderate standards of alcohol consumption” at mine sites.

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

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

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