Sexual abuse at Australian mines set to be targeted by new rules

Eight-month independent review of Rio Tinto’s workplace culture uncovered shocking reality. (Stock image.)

Western Australia’s state government has outlined plans to clamp down on sexual assault and harassment in the mining industry, after a landmark inquiry unveiled shocking cases of abuse of women workers at companies including BHP Group and Rio Tinto Group.

All 24 recommendations in the inquiry, released in June, have been agreed to or supported in-principle by the government, it said in a statement Wednesday. They include implementing a code of practice to improve security for remote workers, funding for legal and advocacy advice, and legislation to bring WA’s definition of sexual harassment in line with the rest of Australia.

“We have a vicious cycle, where women aren’t attracted to work in the industry — let alone stay in the industry — because of inappropriate behavior and a disregard of women’s experiences,” Women’s Interests Minister Simone McGurk said in the statement. “We need more women to work in this sector and we need them to be treated with respect.”

The government’s probe came amid calls for the industry to address its impacts on local communities and the wider environment. BHP and Rio Tinto conducted their own inquiries after allegations from women in Western Australia’s $159-billion a year resources industry, where so-called Fly In-Fly Out (FIFO) workers are transported to remote sites for several weeks at a time.

WA’s inquiry revealed that BHP recorded 91 reports of alleged sexual harassment or assault in the year through June 30, 2021, of which 79 were substantiated. Rio Tinto, from January 2020 to August 2021, received 51 complaints of sexual harassment or assault in FIFO operations, including one substantiated report of sexual assault and 29 substantiated reports of sexual harassment.

Allegations of abuse were also received at projects operated by Woodside Petroleum, Fortescue Metals Group, and Chevron Corp.

(By Jason Scott)

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