This week, representatives of the Western Australian Mineworkers Alliance (WMWA) told WA’s inquiry into sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry that the problem in the industry is endemic and driven in large part by management actively discouraging women from coming forward.
WMWA representatives Brad Gandy (Australian Workers’ Union WA Branch Secretary) and Greg Busson (Mining & Energy Union WA Branch Secretary) told the inquiry on Wednesday that a recent Alliance survey underscored the extent of the problem with:
- 1 in 5 women saying they had experienced physical acts of sexual assaults;
- 1 in 5 women saying they had been explicitly or implicitly offered career advancement or benefits in return for sexual favours; and
- 1 in 3 women saying they had received requests for sexual favours and repeated invitations to engage in sexual relationships.
The WMWA is calling on the Western Australian Government to establish an independent expert body, funded by industry and involving industry and union stakeholders, to oversee the management of sexual harassment claims, so that workers can bring forward complaints without fear of retaliation or blacklisting by site management.
Speaking before the inquiry, Mr Busson said mining management needed to step up and take responsibility.
“There’s no doubt that Australia is having a cultural reckoning around sexual harassment in the workplace. But mining companies are not just ignoring this cultural change – they’re actively discouraging people from coming forward,” Mr Busson said.
“Mining companies can point to the token efforts they’ve taken to weed out this behaviour. But our members know that if they raise issues, they will be moved on in one way or another. If they’re a permanent employee, they will not be able to advance in their careers. And if they’re a casual, the mining companies and the labour-hire firms will blacklist them altogether.”
“Our survey showed that mineworkers – men and women – have very little confidence that they would be supported if they make a complaint about sexual harassment. Mining companies have failed to protect their workers from sexual harassment and failed to reassure them that they will act on concerns. They can no longer be trusted to solve this problem on their own.”
Mr Busson said major mining companies have boomed off the back of record demand for iron ore from China and there is no excuse for them not to invest in change at the scale being asked for.
“Women deserve fair access to the skilled, well-remunerated job opportunities offered by WA’s prosperous iron ore mining industry. But mining companies, at every opportunity, have failed to ensure that women can work in these environments safely,” he said.
Among the WMWA’s other key recommendations include:
- Investment in upgrading FIFO worksites and camps to improve security;
- Improving camp recreational facilities and accommodation to a consistent standard; and
- A confidential employee assistance program available to all workers when they need it.