A damning report into sexual assault and harassment in Western Australia’s mining industry has recommended considering a workers’ register to prevent perpetrators from job-hopping after an inquiry revealed a culture of cover-ups.
The 178-page report was tabled in state parliament on Thursday, with chair Libby Mettam saying sexual harassment was “generally accepted or overlooked”.
“To hear the lived reality of the taunts, attacks and targeted violence, the devastation and despair the victims experienced, the threats to or loss of their livelihood that resulted was shattering and completely inexcusable,” she said.
“This represents a failure of the industry to protect its workers and raises real questions about why government was not better across this safety issue.
“I want to sincerely thank the brave women who came forward to lift the lid on this abhorrent and systemic pattern of workplace behaviour.”
Among the horror stories shared with the inquiry were:
- A woman who had a near-miss incident with a haul truck was informed by the site supervisor that he would make the safety investigation “go away” if she had sex with him;
- Another woman was knocked unconscious in her donga and woke to find her jeans and underpants around her ankles. “I felt sick, ashamed, violated, dirty and very confused,” she said;
- A third woman said a man repeatedly forced his hand down her top in front of other workers and no one did anything; and
- A woman said a supervisor told her about sexual jokes and comments being made about her by others. When she became upset, he forced himself on her, kissing and hugging her.
“There were stories of sex dolls put in front of women’s dongas, and sex toys hung on their doors,” Ms Mettam said.
“Stories of unsolicited and unwelcome sexual attention, stalking, texting of explicit and lewd material, and horrifying stories of sexual assault.
“We heard details of unwanted touching, sexual comments, provocative photo requests and grooming.
“We heard of powerplay behaviour known as ‘shovelling’ where iron ore would be dumped on the cab of trucks operated by women if they didn’t comply with sexual requests.”
Mining companies also gave evidence to the inquiry and some pointed to incidents where they had dismissed people for sexual offences.
But Ms Mettam noted perpetrators had merely changed worksites or were re-employed in the industry with a different company.
The committee considered the value of establishing a register of offenders that could be accessed as part of the employment process, similar to a working with children card.
“Of course, we understand the concept of a register of sexual harassment offenders raises matters of confidentiality and challenges of natural justice, as well as the threshold for inclusion,” she said.
“We have recommended that government explore options which could operate effectively and fairly to prevent habitual sexual harassment offenders continuing to be re-employed in the mining workplace.”
During the inquiry, the WA Police Force said they had investigated 23 reports of sexual assaults on mine sites over the past two years.
But the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety said it had only received 22 reports over the past seven years.
“It was hard to obtain accurate or consistent figures on the extent of sexual harassment and sexual assault to enable industry wide analysis,” Ms Mettam said.
The inquiry received 87 written submissions, including 55 from people with personal experience.
Testimony was given by 44 people representing companies, organisations or providing professional evidence, as well as several “brave individuals” who shared their experience.
In total, the committee made 79 findings and 24 recommendations.
- The government consider establishing a forum to document and acknowledge the experiences of victims of historical workplace sexual harassment, which could include redress such as formal apologies;
- Companies need to ensure there are serious repercussions, including dismissal, for any person who has attempted to seek sexual favours for advantage and that legal action will be taken;
- The industry must explore ways to prevent perpetrators of serious sexual harassment finding reemployment on other sites and in other companies, which could involve a register;
- As a minimum, mining companies must implement moderate drinking standards for all FIFO accommodation sites;
- Mining companies need to improve the gender balance in their workplaces; and
- The industry must establish acceptable standards for accommodation facilities, including security and other safety measures such as lighting and CCTV.
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