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Western Mineworkers Alliance wants action over WA mines’ sex-abuse culture

August 16, 2021

The Western Mineworkers Alliance (WMWA) has demanded that an independent expert body, funded by the mining industry, be set up to oversee sexual harassment and abuse claims after a survey found almost one in four women in WA mining has experienced sexual assault at work.

Western Mineworkers Alliance (WMWA), headed by the Australian Workers’ Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union – Mining and Energy Division, plays a vital role campaigning to improve the working lives of workers employed in WA mining.

The WMWA says the new independent expert body is urgently needed so workers can raise complaints without fear of retaliation or blacklisting by site management.

The call comes after a WMWA survey revealed that not only have a majority of female workers on WA mine sites experienced sexual harassment, most are also deeply wary of raising it with management because of a deeply embedded culture of cover-up that discourages reporting and accountability.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said there was an urgent need for change.

“While it’s shocking that so many workers have been sexually abused at mine sites, what’s more shocking still is the mine management culture of cover-up and victim-punishment,” Mr Walton said.

“Any victim of workplace sexual harassment or abuse should feel safe and protected when coming forward to their employer. That’s just clearly not the case at WA mines.

“And the fact women believe they’ll be blacklisted as troublemakers if they come forward is a shameful indictment on the culture created by the big miners.”

The survey, included in WMWA’s submission to a WA parliamentary inquiry into sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry, found:

  • One in five women have been offered improved employment conditions or career advancement, dependent on sexual favours, either explicitly or implicitly.
  • One in five women had experienced physical sexual assault.
  • Two thirds had experienced verbal harassment of a sexual nature, including jokes referring to sexual acts or sexual orientation.
  • A third had experienced unwanted touching or physical contact.
  • More than half had experienced inappropriate staring or leering that made them feel intimidated.

Despite the shocking prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse the survey found mine workers – women and men – are also not confident their managers understand the prevalence of sexual harassment on site and in camp.

  • Nearly half of women respondents did not believe reports of sexual harassment were encouraged.
  • Among women, just 29% agreed employers understand the prevalence
  • Among men, 37% agreed employers understand the prevalence.
  • Among women, just 41% said they believed workers were encouraged to report incidents of sexual harassment with 48% believing workers were not encouraged to report (11% unsure).
  • Most women and men are unsure or negative about whether they would be supported throughout the process when reporting instances of sexual harassment in FIFO workplaces.
  • Among women, 24% believed workers are supported throughout the reporting place (48% said no and 28% were unsure).

“Women are every bit as entitled to mining jobs as men. At the moment the culture created by management is telling women loud and clear they are not welcome,” Mr Walton said.

“We cannot trust the big miners to do the right thing in this area. Their promises and assurances mean next to nothing on this issue.

“The only way to ensure victims feel safe to speak up is to establish an independent body so they know they won’t be punished and blacklisted.”

Mining and Energy Union President Tony Maher said the mining giants needed to admit the problem and set up the independent body.

“Sexual harassment and abuse is a problem across society, but it’s a problem that’s been grotesquely amplified by mining employers,” Mr Maher said.

“We know there’s an all-powerful culture of ‘get on with job or get out’ on these sites. Production is always the priority and sexual harassment and abuse are treated as an inconvenience.

“Victims know it’s a grave risk to their careers to come forward with an issues, because you’ll get blacklisted as a ‘trouble maker’.

“The stampede toward casualising jobs that were once permanent has accelerated the epidemic of sexual abuse on site. People who rely on being employed on a contract-to-contract basis know that if they speak up they’ll be labelled as an inconvenience and their work will dry up.

“Mine managers have done virtually nothing constructive to date to address this, because they prefer a head-in-the-sand approach. That’s why they should not be trusted with fixing the problem they created.

“Mining giants are very happy to feature smiling women in the PR and marketing materials, but as soon as it becomes mildly inconvenient to protect their safety at work they head for the hills.”

 

 

If you have been the subject of sexual harassment or assault, or if this story has caused you anxiety or concerns, please reach out for support.

For some people, stories like this can be overwhelming. If you need to talk to someone, support is available through Lifeline: Call 13 11 14 anytime for confidential telephone crisis support.

You can also find support through your local GP or other qualified medical practitioners.

Alternatively, you can contact the WA health sexual assault resource centre here.