Australian mining is plagued by ‘horrific’ cases of sexual harassment

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Some spoke of security guards filming women showering, while others received “despicable texts”.

Sydney:

Sexual harassment and assault are rampant in Australia’s multi-billion dollar mining sector, a year-long investigation reported on Thursday, citing harrowing accounts from female workers of harassment, grooming and abuse.

The report documented widespread abuse against aircrew, whose jobs require them to stay for weeks at remote mining sites in Western Australia’s outback.

A woman told the parliamentary inquiry that she lost consciousness while returning to her accommodation at a mining site.

“When I woke up my jeans and underpants were around my ankles, I felt sick, ashamed, violated, dirty and very confused,” the worker told the inquest.

Another told the story of a woman having “complete mental and physical breakdown” after being harassed by a colleague.

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The women spoke of the exhaustion of dealing with constant harassment while at these remote sites, including not being able to wash their underwear as it would be stolen from the clothesline.

Some spoke of security guards filming women showering, while others received “despicable texts” from senior executives.

The inquiry heard from the Western Mine Workers Alliance, which said more than a fifth of its female members had been asked for sexual favors related to their working conditions or career advancement.

The report highlighted the vulnerability of contractors to this type of abuse of power, recounting how a woman’s supervisor asked her to perform sexual acts to “get his shirt”, i.e. be hired directly by the mining company.

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“It is important that parliament, government and the general public realize the extent of the horrific violence and abuse women are exposed to in the course of their work,” said inquiry chair Libby Metham.

Mettam said that while she “knew horrible stories would be told”, she was “shocked and appalled far beyond expectation by the scale and depth of the problem”.

Mining giants Rio Tinto, Fortescue and BHP led the investigation and all confirmed they fired workers for inappropriate behavior.

But the survey also found that “people were more likely to be moved to another site than punished”.

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The report follows Rio Tinto’s global investigation, published in February, which found evidence of racism, bullying and reports from 21 female workers of actual or attempted sexual assault over the past five years.

The Western Australia survey hailed Rio’s “groundbreaking” investigation and encouraged other companies to follow suit.

He also called for an overhaul of reporting procedures and massive investments in security at 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 last two years” but “still has a long way to go”.

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