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Western Australia’s miners call for inquiry over reported sexual assaults

Women make up about 22% of Australia’s mining workforce. (Stock image)

Miners in Western Australia are backing calls for a parliamentary inquiry into sexual assault and harassment at the state’s operations as related accusations have grabbed headlines in recent weeks.

This week, a second BHP fly-in, fly-out worker was fired and charged following an allegation of rape. A previous incident was reported in July 2020, resulting in a man being fired.

Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) also revealed this week it was assisting police investigating an incident of alleged sexual assault at Christmas Creek mine. 

Managers from BHP, Rio Tinto, FMG, Woodside and Newmont, through the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA (CME), say they have a “zero-tolerance policy” on assault and harassment and were committed to ensuring their workplaces were safe for female employees.

“Some of the behaviours that have been reported have been extremely worrying, and contrary to the inclusive and professional workplaces the sector is striving to achieve,” CME president, Fiona Hick, said in a statement.

“Instances of rape, sexual harassment and assault are incredibly serious and totally unacceptable in any setting, including workplaces”

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA president, Fiona Hick

“Instances of rape, sexual harassment and assault are incredibly serious and totally unacceptable in any setting, including workplaces,” she noted.

In the last decade, mining giants including BHP, Rio Tinto and Freeport-McMoRan have made a point of hiring more women. They have used apprenticeships, direct recruiting and more flexible working practices to attract female labour, hoping to rebalance their mostly male workforces and help fill vacancies.

“You can’t just say, yes, diversity is good and we will just let it happen organically, because it won’t,” Amanda Lacaze, chief executive of Lynas Rare Earths and one of the few female heads of a mining company said in a Morningstar interview earlier this month. “We have seen that over many, many years.”

Despite coordinated efforts, mining remains one of the worst-performing industries when it comes to the hiring of women, particularly at senior management level.

Females tend to be put off by the lack of flexibility in a career that can include months away from home at isolated sites. 

There is also a perception that they won’t have the same opportunities as men.

Based on BHP’s 2020 report, the world’s largest miner leads the industry as total females on payroll were up 2% in the year to 26.5%. The company’s goal to achieve a 50-50 gender balance by 2025 across the company — from truck drivers in Chile to its boardroom in Melbourne.

The proportion of female employees at rivals is much lower, with Fortescue having 19.4% of women employees, Rio Tinto 18.4% and Vale 13%.

Code of conduct

CME recently set up the Safe and Respectful Behaviours Working Group, which will focus on a code of conduct for employees of the chamber’s member companies, behaviour at external events, after hours on site, and social media activities. 

The role of alcohol use at work sites will also be included in the guidelines.

BHP announced in May it was imposing a no-drinking after 9.30pm rule for all workers at its mining camps across Australia.

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