Mining companies support inquiry into sexual harassment in Western Australia

August 23, 2021

A parliamentary inquiry into the sexual harassment of women in Western Australia's mining industry was established in June to examine workplace culture and drug and alcohol policies.

The inquiry was established to examine whether current laws, regulations, policies and practices are adequate to protect workers at fly-in, fly-out sites (FIFO) and it has the support of the major mining companies operating in the region including BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals and Newmont.

The committee, chaired by deputy Liberal leader Libby Mettam, will also scrutinize workplace culture, rosters, drug and alcohol policies and recruitment practices.

BHP, the largest mining company in the world, said it has fired at least 48 workers for sexual harassment in Western Australia since 2019.

Rio Tinto released a statement on Aug. 20 in which is pledged its commitment to eliminating sexual harassment from its operations.

Rio Tinto’s submission to the inquiry provides insight into Rio Tinto’s ongoing journey to ensure the company’s workplaces are safe, inclusive and respectful places for everyone.

Rio Tinto said it views sexual harassment as a safety issues and believes this method will help deliver better outcomes in terms of preventing these incidents and ensuring better support for victims.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said, “We welcome the opportunity to participate in the Inquiry and recognize the importance of shining a light on the issue of sexual harassment in our industry.

“The safety of our people is our top priority. I apologize to anyone who has experienced any form of sexual harassment, which has no place at our company and will not be tolerated.

The Associated Press reported that the Minerals Council of Australia released a national industry code on eliminating sexual harassment, emphasizing that all employee allegations must be treated seriously, confidentially and sensitively.

Member companies are required under the code to provide alternative working arrangements to assist victims, facilitate access to support services and take reasonable steps to protect individuals from “victimization or reprisals.”

Criminal conduct must be referred to authorities and outcomes of completed investigations communicated in a timely manner.
The code also encourages companies to "avoid the use of non-disclosure clauses in any agreements with persons impacted by sexual harassment."

"Sexual harassment causes profound physical, emotional and psychological impacts on those affected. It is unacceptable, against the law and must be eliminated from our industry's culture and workplaces," the council said.

“A uniform national approach enables all employers and workers to have the same expectations for respectful workplaces regardless of their location, job, gender or seniority.”

BHP said that in 2018 it had formally defined sexual harassment as a health and safety risk, to be overseen in the same way as all other occupational health and safety risks in its workplaces and business.

“Our experience has been that this was an important step forward in the development of our approach and has helped us to provide a sharper and more effective focus, language and framework for discussing and addressing these behaviors,” BHP said in a statement. “It means that we now apply a systematic, risk-based process to evaluate and manage the risk of sexual harassment. This includes risk assessments to identify scenarios in which risks arise, their causes and the actions that we can take to prevent and reduce harm (we refer to these actions as “controls”).

“As part of the risk assessment processes in relation to sexual harassment, we have engaged members of our workforce with experience at site and at camps and experts in health and safety, harassment and inclusion and diversity,” BHP said. “Through this, we identified factors that can contribute to the risk of workplace sexual harassment that are more pronounced in the mining industry, as well as factors that are common across all industries and workplaces. Factors identified as more prevalent in the mining industry which can increase risk include isolated or remote working locations, a largely male-dominated workforce, and camp and accommodation villages. Other factors identified that are more common across industries include workplace culture, awareness of behavioral expectations, alcohol and drug use, level of confidence in the reporting and investigation process, personal relationships and situations of power imbalance.”

“We strongly believe that with the right focus from industry and a clear and consistent legislative and regulatory framework, all forms of disrespectful behavior in the workplace, including sexual harassment, can be eliminated. We are committed to playing our part,” said Trott or Rio Tinto said.





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