Sexual harassment and assault are commonplace in Australia’s multi-billion-dollar mining sector, a year-long inquiry reported Thursday, citing harrowing testimony from women workers of stalking, grooming and abuse.
The report documented widespread abuses against fly-in, fly-out staff, whose work requires them to stay for weeks at remote outback mining sites in Western Australia.
One woman told the parliamentary inquiry she was knocked unconscious while returning to her accommodation at a mine site.
“When I awoke my jeans and underpants were around my ankles, I felt sick, ashamed, violated, dirty and very confused,” the worker told the inquiry.
Another told a story of a woman having “a complete mental and physical breakdown” after being stalked by a co-worker.
Women spoke of the exhaustion of dealing with constant harassment while staying at these remote sites — including not being able to launder their underwear because it would be stolen off the washing line.
Some spoke of security guards filming women when they showered, while others were sent “vile texts” by senior staff.
The inquiry heard from the Western Mine Workers Alliance, which reported that more than a fifth of its women members had been asked for sexual favours linked to their working conditions or career advancement.
The report highlighted the vulnerability of contractors to this kind of abuse of power, recounting how one woman’s supervisor demanded she perform sexual acts to “get her shirt”, meaning getting hired directly by the mining company.
“It is important that the parliament, government and the broader public become aware of the magnitude of the horrendous violence and abuse women are exposed to while going about their work,” the inquiry’s chair Libby Mettam said.
Mettam said while she “knew horrific stories would be brought forward”, she was “shocked and appalled well beyond expectation by the size and depth of the problem”.
Mining giants Rio Tinto, Fortescue and BHP fronted the inquiry, and all confirmed they had fired workers over inappropriate behaviour.
But the inquiry also found that “people were more likely to be moved on to another site than punished”.
The report followed Rio Tinto’s global survey, released in February, which found evidence of racism, bullying and reports from 21 women workers of actual or attempted sexual assault in the past five years.
The Western Australian inquiry welcomed Rio’s “ground-breaking” survey and encouraged other companies to follow suit.
It also called for an overhaul of reporting procedures and massive investment in safety on mine sites, including the installation of CCTV and lighting.
Powerful industry lobby group the Minerals Council of Australia responded to the report, saying the industry had made “substantial progress over the past two years” but “has a long way to go”.
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