A landmark inquiry into Australia’s mining sector has uncovered dozens of shocking cases of sexual harassment and abuse of female workers at companies including BHP Group and Rio Tinto Group.
The government of Western Australia described “horrific” incidents at the workplaces in a report yesterday, saying that the the incidents were a failure of the industry and government oversight.
Among the recommendations were the payment of compensation to the many workers who were victims of bosses and colleagues on remote projects.
“I was shocked and appalled well beyond expectation by the size and depth of the problem,” inquiry chair Libby Mettam said in the report.
“To hear the lived reality of the taunts, attacks and targeted violence, the devastation and despair the victims experienced, the threats to or loss of their livelihood that resulted was shattering and completely inexcusable,” she said.
The probe delved into the dark corners of an industry that is under mounting pressure from investors, governments and society to address its impacts on local communities and the wider environment.
BHP and Rio Tinto issued their own inquiries after allegations from women emerged in Western Australia’s lucrative resources industry, where so-called “Fly In-Fly Out” (FIFO) workers are transported to remote sites for several weeks at a time.
Allegations of abuse included a woman involved in a safety issue who was told by a supervisor she could “make the issue go away” if she had sex with him.
Another was knocked unconscious in her room and woke up undressed with her jeans around her ankles.
Another described how a man forced his hands down her top several times in front of other workers and “no one did anything.”
After complaining about colleagues making sexual jokes about her, a woman said her supervisor’s response was to “force himself on her.”
Other allegations included sex dolls and toys placed in women’s sleeping quarters; stalking, unsolicited texting, and provocative photo requests; and “shoveling,” in which iron ore was dumped inside the vehicles of female drivers who did not comply with sexual requests.
The inquiry revealed that BHP Group recorded 91 reports of alleged sexual harassment or assault in the year through June 30 last year, of which 79 were substantiated.
Rio Tinto, from January 2020 to August last year, received 51 complaints of sexual harassment or assault in FIFO operations, including one substantiated report of sexual assault and 29 substantiated reports of sexual harassment.
“Rio will closely study the report’s recommendations,” the company’s iron ore chief Simon Trott said in a statement. “The courage of people coming forward to tell their stories has been critical in terms of shining a light on behaviors that must change within our company and our industry.”
Allegations of abuse were also received at projects operated by Woodside Petroleum, Fortescue Metals Group and Chevron Corp.
Chevron said it would also review the findings and the inquiry has “provided a critical opportunity to learn, act and improve.”
Fortescue CEO Elizabeth Gaines said that while the company has implemented safety enhancements at worksites after conducting its own review, “we acknowledge that some inappropriate behavior still occurs.”
In Western Australia, a resource-rich state four times the size of France that is the center of a massive iron ore industry, remote mines that can only be accessed through flights by FIFO workers have been especially risky for women. They remain largely male-dominated, with workers living in camp-style accommodation.
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