Since late 2019, four separate allegations of sexual assault have been reported by BHP employees and contractors.
- Reports of alleged sexual assault have been made by employees and contractors of BHP, FMG, and Newcrest
- Rio Tinto says it also has had reports of sexual assault and harassment
- The Senate’s Education and Employment Legislation Committee will examine allegations tomorrow as part of a broader inquiry
Some of them are now before the courts.
But in one case, a perpetrator could not be identified and the alleged female survivor continues to work for the company.
Another alleged attack was reported at a Newcrest mine site in 2020, and as recently as April there was an alleged incident at Fortescue Metals.
Rio Tinto has also conceded it has had instances of sexual assault and harassment, but has not said when.
Minerals Council chief executive Tania Constable has condemned the attacks as “shocking”.
Ms Constable is due to appear before the federal Senate’s Education and Employment Legislation Committee tomorrow, where the allegations will be examined as part of the committee’s inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Act (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021.
The bill aims to enact legislative changes borne out of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ 2020 Respect at Work report.
The report found the overall rate of sexual harassment in the Australian mining industry was 40 per cent, 11 per cent higher than the average across all industries.
But when the statistics were split along gender lines, the survey revealed women working in the mining sector were twice as likely to be sexually harassed as their male colleagues (74 per cent compared to 32 per cent).
Ms Constable said in the wake of the report, the mining industry established a code of conduct to prevent sexual harassment.
“We want to see a number of things occur — that the culture is changing, the prevention measures and response measures are put in place, and practical things like assessing a mine site, making sure that it’s appropriate for gendered use — that people feel secure in being able to go to work and then go back to their accommodation,” she said.
Miners introduce alcohol limits
The Perth Magistrates Court has heard a woman in her 20s, who was allegedly raped by a 35-year-old male colleague on a BHP site in November 2020, was passed out from alcohol at the time.
He was granted bail of $10, 000 and has been sacked by BHP.
Ms Constable said several of the miners recently reduced alcohol limits on site.
“The industry as a whole is again taking a step back and saying, ‘Well, you know what — what place does alcohol have on a mine site?’ and making sure that we have something that is much more rigorous and much more uniform across the industry,” she said.
From last Monday, Rio Tinto introduced a four-drink daily alcohol limit and said only mid-strength beer and cider would be available for purchase.
Wine sales were now limited to a maximum of two 187ml bottles per person per day.
At BHP, a daily alcohol limit of four standard drinks per day was introduced on July 1.
Newcrest would not reveal if it had an alcohol limit.
FMG employees must undergo daily alcohol screening but are allowed up to six alcoholic drinks a day.
WA Labor Senator Louise Pratt, who is on the Education and Employment Legislation Committee, pointed out that Ms Jenkins’ report found alcohol was often a contributing factor in workplace sexual harassment.
She said she had invited the chief executives of several mining companies to the committee hearings but also hoped to hear from survivors.
“It’s difficult for victims themselves to be able to tell their stories and I would really encourage anyone who has experiences that they would like the committee to know about, to let us know,” Senator Pratt said.
Push for real change
West Australian Liberal MP Libby Mettam has successfully pushed for a state parliamentary inquiry into the issue and hopes the allegations can be met with real change.
In a statement, BHP asset president of West Australian iron ore Brandon Craig said sexual assault was “completely unacceptable” and had “no place” at BHP.
“In recent years we have brought on more security personnel, patrols and safety escorts, improved lighting, signage and pathways, upgraded door locks and chains, and increased CCTV coverage,” he said.
“We have plans in place for a further $300 million in upgrades to camp rooms and improved security measures.”
Similarly, in a statement Newcrest said sexual assault was “completely unacceptable”.
FMG CEO Elizabeth Gaines said the company had a “zero tolerance” approach to harassment.
“Harassment of any kind is considered serious misconduct and may be grounds for dismissal,” she said.
Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Simon Trott said the company had a responsibility “to run villages that are safe, respectful and inclusive places for all of our people, all of the time”.
“We have sought feedback from our workforce and carefully considered how we can improve the experience of living at our villages, promoting respectful behaviour, and safe and comfortable places to live and work,” he said.