PERTH (miningweekly.com) – The Western Australian government on Wednesday outlined a number of actions to tackle sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace in response to the Parliamentary inquiry into the fly-in, fly-out mining industry.
The results of the inquiry, released earlier this year, found that sexual harassment has long been prevalent across the industry.
The report made a number of recommendations to tackle the issue of sexual harassment in the resources sector, including that a government-funded forum to document and acknowledge incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace be established, that resource companies should ensure there were serious repercussions for any person who attempted to seek sexual favours for advantage, and that the industry should find ways to prevent perpetrators of serious sexual harassment of finding re-employment on other sites and in other companies.
Mines and Petroleum, and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston said on Wednesday that the state government's plans in response to the inquiry would be implemented across key areas such as primary prevention, data and research, a refocused regulatory framework and better support and advocacy for victims of workplace sexual harassment.
As part of the state government's response, a new Code of Practice will be developed to help improve security measures for workers staying at workplace accommodation. This code will act as a minimum standard that employers must consider to ensure the safety of their workers living regionally or remotely.
The government has also committed to funding a community legal and advocacy service centre to provide free guidance and advice to affected Western Australians.
Furthermore, the government has already committed to changing the law to bring Western Australia's definition of what constitutes sexual harassment in line with other Australian jurisdictions and to remove the 'disadvantage test' complainants, Johnston said.
The government aims to introduce these legislative reforms early next year.
“The government is strongly committed to providing safe and inclusive workplaces for all employees across Western Australia, regardless of industry or size,” Johnston said.
"Most importantly, I want to acknowledge the bravery and resilience of the women who shared their stories with the Parliamentary inquiry. We support, or in-principle support, all the report's recommendations for government and encourage industry to also consider how they can apply the report's recommendations.
“I call on industry to ensure our mining sector is accountable and responsive to community standards. We need to work together to build a culture of respect as women have a right to work in safe workplaces that are free from sexual harassment.
“We cannot be complacent when it comes to inappropriate workplace behaviours; there is much to be done and the government will continue to advocate for change.”
The government also supports the recommendation to establish a culturally appropriate expert group within WorkSafe WA to investigate, assess and deal with reports of sexual harassment and assault offences in the sector. This work will be further enhanced by the findings of the regulatory review being undertaken by Elizabeth Shaw, who was appointed as an independent expert to review the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety's protocols for responding to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the mining industry.
Johnston said that these initiatives would build upon a number of existing programmes the state government has been progressing, including the A$8.4-million Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) programme that boosts responses to mental health, workplace culture and mine safety in Western Australia's mining sector.
The MARS programme oversees a number of projects including the Respect in Mining pilot programme, the Thrive at Work in Mining programme and a landmark study into mental health, workplace culture and safety across Western Australia's mining sector.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) for Western Australia has welcomed the government’s response, saying a clear pathway to address the recommendations in the report will enable the sector to build on and continue the work already being done.
“A number of the government’s responses are consistent with initiatives already being advanced by CME’s Safe and Respectful Behaviours Working Group, including the need for reporting and support pathways, training, and data sharing and provision of industry feedback to support continuous improvement efforts through both the WHS Commission and incoming Mining and Petroleum Advisory Committee,” said CMEl acting director of policy and advocacy Adrienne LaBombard.
“Our industry has a strong track record of working constructively with the government, Minister Johnston and the industry regulator to achieve important outcomes and I am sure that will continue.”
LaBombard said the CME and its members continued to progress initiatives in response to the findings and recommendations to industry outlined in the Parliamentary Inquiry report.
“On the ground, there are member company sites where the amenities and configuration of their accommodation facilities have been adjusted with enhanced safety, wellbeing and security in mind.
“Recruitment and pre-employment screening are other areas where CME and its member companies are undertaking significant work to enhance controls and ensure those working in the Western Australian mining and resources sector understand its commitment to providing safe and inclusive workplaces for all employees.
“We look forward to providing an update on that work in the near future.”
The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (Amec) also expressed the commitment of its members to eliminate sexual harassment, sexual assault, bullying and discrimination from the industry.
“Amec welcomes the comprehensive response the WA government presented today and will consider its actions in detail with our members. A number of these actions will require industry and government to work together, and we affirm our commitment to collaborate with government on these initiatives,” CEO Warren Pearce said.
“There have been a range of improvements undertaken across industry to address unacceptable instances of sexual harassment and assault. This work continues, and Amec is committed to driving these genuine advances by supporting members across Australia’s mineral exploration and mining industry.”