04/07/2022 - 14:50

Brave voices highlight void in workplace safety

Brave voices highlight void in workplace safety

As Chair of the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee in Western Australia’s Parliament, I recently handed down the Sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry, a report that found a staggering range of shocking, confronting and compelling stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault from many brave women.

This report made 79 findings as well as 15 recommendations to Government and 9 recommendations to industry.

While we have seen progress in the industry, particularly in leadership, we heard evidence of a culture of disrespect, mistreatment, sexual harassment – and worse – in the mining industry, and in particular, FIFO workplaces.

It was distressing that, in this day and age, with such a focus on safety in the workplace, a broad range of unlawful or illegal behaviour was exposed, which had often been overlooked or underestimated by employers and the regulator.

While WA Police have the primary role of investigating criminal acts of sexual assault in the workplace, the responsibility of ensuring a safe workplace sits with industry and the regulator.  It is also the responsibility of each and every employee – to act lawfully and respectfully and, if they see inappropriate behaviour, to call it out and put an end to it.

The Parliamentary inquiry heard about an inappropriate power dynamic between managers and staff and some real concerns surrounding sexual favours asked in exchange for career enhancement.  A survey of Western Mine Workers’ Alliance members found that 32 per cent of women had received requests for sexual favours, and that 22 per cent of women had such requests linked to their working conditions or career advancement. These numbers are staggering, and the fact that such behaviour could occur at such a high rate, without action being taken, is disgraceful.  The inquiry heard the details that made these statistics personal; the experiences that ruined women’s faith in a merit-based promotion system, and worse, ruined their careers.

It was hard to comprehend stories of unsolicited and unwelcome sexual attention, stalking, texting of explicit and lewd material, and horrifying stories of sexual assault.   There were stories of unwanted touching, sexual comments, provocative photo requests and grooming.  That such attitudes could exist in a workplace that puts safety as its highest priority shows the contempt of the perpetrators to their colleagues subjected to this behaviour.

That any employee believes they can get away with such egregious behaviour is simply breathtaking.  That colleagues can stand by and turn a blind eye is horrifying.  But the fact such behaviour has been happening for so long is a failure of the companies, the workers partaking in this behaviour and the regulators.

The exposure of this behaviour, first in the media and then through the Parliamentary inquiry, shows there is much to be done to create a culture of respect, particularly if we are to increase female participation in these workplaces.  While this inquiry may initially be an inhibitor to attracting more women into mining, I hope it will also draw a line in the sand and send a strong message to the perpetrators that this behaviour is completely unacceptable.

I am confident we have the right leadership – both in the resources sector and throughout the corporate community – to make sure workplaces do not tolerate this behaviour.  Since the Parliamentary inquiry was launched last year, we have seen much work of the industry and government to make inroads to end this culture of misconduct and to empower victims to speak up.

Already, Rio Tinto has conducted a comprehensive confidential survey of all its worksites and made the resulting report public. BHP has made a significant $300 million investment in improving safety and security across their facilities.  And the Chamber of Minerals and Energy has been proactive with the development of improved standards for industry.  These corporates are to be commended for committing to change. 

There is a very clear message that has come out from this inquiry – the culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace will be found out.  The perpetrators will be identified.  The culture is going to change.  Every employee, from the coal face to the boardroom, has a responsibility to act and prevent workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault from taking place. 

The key to change is imbedding a workplace culture in all mining workforces that does not tolerate sexual assault or abuse, empowering bystanders, like the culture change programs that have addressed physical safety with such success. This is a large task that will require commitment and change in all levels of mining companies themselves and considerable resources. 

The culture of mining workplaces must be where understanding, preventing and appropriately dealing with incidents of workplace sexual harassment is the practiced norm. Where lifting the lid on sexual harassment is considered everyone’s business.

Libby Mettam – Chair of the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee and the Deputy Leader of the State Parliamentary Liberal Party

Twitter:@LibbyMettam I Facebook: libbymettam

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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