PERTH (miningweekly.com) – A Western Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into sexual harassment against women in the fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) mining industry has found that sexual harassment has long been prevalent across the industry.
Inquiry chairperson Libby Mettam said in the report that it was hard to obtain accurate or consistent figures on the extent of sexual harassment and sexual assault to enable industry-wide analysis.
“The figures provided by mining companies varied widely and while the Western Australian Police Force informed us they had investigated 23 reports of sexual assaults on mine sites over the last two years, the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) reported it had only received 22 reports over the previous seven years.
“We have made some recommendations to improve this. It is difficult to believe the regulator could have accepted this level of reporting as reflecting the true situation on the ground,” Mettam said.
The report noted that the resources industry in general, and the FIFO part of the industry in particular, embodied all the main sexual harassment risks. It pointed out that longstanding academic and other research has identified poor culture, gender inequality, and power imbalance in the workplace as the major risks, and all of them were evident in the sector.
“Gender imbalance is a historical reality in the resources sector, and while there are efforts to change this, women remain a minority, and a small minority ‘in the field’. Most problematic, perhaps, was the question of power imbalance. Mining is a particularly hierarchical industry, and this has enabled appalling behaviour to continue, up to and including managers and supervisors seeking sexual favours from employees in return for promotion or security of employment. We also learned that there was little expectation that bad behaviour would lead to any consequences. People were more likely to be moved on to another site than punished,” the report stated.
Mettam noted that all industry representatives spoken to during the Inquiry had spoken against these behaviours, noting that major companies were already making commitments to improve the physical security of their workplaces and accommodation sites, with many also taking a serious look at their own culture and investigating what needed to be done.
“But much remains to be done, and we believe the failure to recognise what was happening in their workplaces is a sign of corporate failure that companies and the industry cannot avoid or downplay,” the report read.
The Inquiry also found that regulators and other government agencies had very limited understanding of the prevalence, extent and nature of sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces.
“The key regulators were not receiving comprehensive information from companies, and had limited systems to deal with that information it did receive. Companies believed they had unclear guidance on what information they needed to pass on to regulators. We also found that the formal reporting and information sharing arrangements between regulators and Western Australian Police were not working as well as they should,” the report stated.
The report made a number of recommendations to tackle the issue of sexual harassment in the resources industry, including the government establishing a forum to hear, document and acknowledge the experiences of victims of historical workplace sexual assault.
The report also recommended that resources companies had to ensure that there were serious repercussions, including dismissal, for any person who has attempted to seek sexual favours for advantage, and that all proper legal actions should be taken against them.
Furthermore, it was recommended that the industry should explore ways to prevent perpetrators of serious sexual harassment finding re-employment on other sites and in other companies. To do this, the report suggested a thorough exploration of an industry-wide workers’ register or other mechanism such as industry-wide accreditation, taking into account natural justice considerations and perhaps modelled on the Working With Children Card, and ensuring probity checks across the industry include consideration of harmful sexual behaviours, particularly for smaller companies and subcontractors.
The report also recommended that mining companies had to, as a minimum, implement moderate drinking standards for all FIFO accommodation sites, and to address gender balance in the workplace, including making greater effort to increase female workforce participation, with a specific focus on site-level supervisor and management positions.
To address sexual harassment further, the report also recommended that the mining and resource sector actively work to reduce the risks that were exacerbated by high rates of labour-hire and subcontracting, with mining companies urged to consider the appropriate proportion of labour-hire and contractor workforce, review monitoring and information sharing arrangements with all contract partners, and establish clear requirements and guidelines for all contractors that directly address issues of sexual harassment.
A number of other recommendations were also made in terms of acceptable standards for accommodation facilities, sexual harassment and assault training, and that mining companies should establish a number of internal and external options for reporting and obtaining support when incidents of sexual harassment arise.
For the state government, the report has recommended that the DMIRS should be instructed to work with WorkSafe WA and mining bodies to prepare regular, anonymous, and independently administered surveys to gauge the extent and impacts of harassment in the workplace, and that Ministers from different sectors should work with relevant agencies and stakeholders to determine the best-placed entity to become the central coordinator and record-keeper for reports of this nature.
The report also recommended that the DMIRS should work with industry bodies to explore options for industry-funded widespread roll-out of consistent, all-hours, third-party anonymous reporting platforms to complement existing company systems, and that the DMIRS should work with miners to develop appropriate education and training across the industry for bystanders on when and how to report incidents of sexual harassment.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) on Thursday reiterated industry’s pledge to act upon recommendations within the report that are practical and which would achieve positive outcomes.
“CME and its member companies have been open in saying that we have work to do to ensure our workplaces are safe and inclusive for all of the sector’s 156 000 employees – and the Inquiry is part of that,” acting CME CEO Rob Carruthers said.
“Any instances of sexual assault or sexual harassment on site or in work-adjacent settings are completely unacceptable and the health and safety of our workers must always be our sector’s No. 1 priority.
“We acknowledge the courage of the people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment who came forward and either gave evidence or provided submissions to the Inquiry. We recognise the pain you have suffered, and also recognise that in coming forward you will help make our sector better.
“We also thank the Committee for their efforts in the course of the Inquiry and welcome the publication of today’s report.”
Carruthers said the CME and its member companies would now take some time to digest the report in full, including the wide range of recommendations contained within it.
He noted that any recommendations that could be meaningfully implemented would add to the extensive work the sector was already doing to ensure safe and respectful working environments.
“The Safe and Respectful Behaviours (SARB) Working Group that CME convened last year has representatives from dozens of our member companies across a variety of commodities and functions, and is very active in this space.
“There is a standing agenda item at each of CME’s Advisory Board meetings to review the progress and recommendations of the SARB Working Group, such is its priority.
“We’ve already seen some significant initiatives stemming from the SARB Working Group, including adoption of an implementation framework to operationalise the Industry Code on Eliminating Sexual Harassment developed by the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) at a national level and the establishment of an Industry Alcohol Guideline for company-owned and operated accommodation facilities.
“The SARB Working Group’s industry-level work continues and will now turn its focus to better understanding the full details of the recommendations of this report.
“As we’ve said from the outset of the Inquiry, any recommendation that is practical and which would achieve positive outcomes is one that we would act upon.
“I note that some of the recommendations in this report align with areas where CME and its member companies are already working towards improvement – including limits on alcohol consumption, more stringent recruiting processes, reconfiguration and upgrades of camps and accommodation facilities, increasing gender diversity in the sector, education of the workforce and ensuring the best possible support for any people impacted by sexual harassment or assault,” said Carruthers.
The MCA has also welcomed the release of the Inquiry report, and has reinforced its own commitment to eliminating sexual harassment in the sector.
“The Australian mining industry’s core value and commitment is the safety, health and psychological wellbeing of its workforce, where everyone who goes to work returns home safe and healthy.
We cannot claim to be taking the health and safety of our workforce seriously if the focus of our safety systems and culture do not include the health of the whole person: physical and psychological,” said MCA CEO Tania Constable.
She noted that while the minerals industry has made substantial progress over the past two years in addressing the issue, the sector had a long way to go to eliminate sexual harassment across its workplaces.
“It is important that all jurisdictions are consistent in the development and application of legislative and policy settings designed to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Society-wide cultural change is required, not just for some workplaces, in some jurisdictions,” Constable said.