State government to run inquiry into sexual harassment at Australian mining camps

Australia’s mining industry is to be the subject of a state government-led inquiry that will examine possible sexual harassment in the sector.

BHP Group, Rio Tinto and Fortescue are among those expected to make submissions to the state government inquiry, which will make recommendations to West Australia’s parliament in April 2022.

Submissions close on Friday 20 August and become public next week.

Workers typically live at isolated “fly-in, fly-out” (FIFO) camps for a fortnight at a time in Western Australia’s mining belt.

“There are certain geographic and other issues that make FIFO camps a particular high risk area – part of that is the demographics that are on site,” claimed Owen Whittle, a spokesperson for UnionsWA, which represents 30 workers groups and will make a submission to the inquiry.

Women make up roughly one in five FIFO workers and critics say recreation facilities have become hubs for drinking alcohol and created poor camp cultures that miners need to address.

In a 2020 report, the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into sexual harassment found that 74% of women in the mining industry had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past five years, partly due to the gender imbalance.

However, Australia’s three biggest miners, BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue, have previously spoken about measures they are taking to address gender-related issues, including efforts to increase the representation of women in their workforces.

BHP has been targeting a 50-50 gender split by 2025. The percentage of women has risen to 26.5% up from 17.6% since mid-2016.

Rio is striving to increase the representation of women by 2 percentage points each year. It rose by 0.9% to 21.0% in the first half, hiring 1,270 women, 32% of all hires. It has also launched an initiative to address sexual harassment and help it retain women.

“As an industry, we must and can do more to ensure we have a diverse workforce that is reflective of our community and foster a workplace culture that truly embraces diversity and inclusiveness,” Elizabeth Gaines, Fortescue CEO, said last week.

At the mining industry’s biggest annual conference in the outback town of Kalgoorlie last week, Gaines noted she had improved the event’s gender diversity: women made up four out of 56 speakers, up from the three last year.

“It is clear that the industry still has some work to do in this regard,” she said at the conference.

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