The WA Parliament's Community Development and Justice Standing Committee has identified a systemic failure by mining employers to recognise the sexual harassment happening at mine sites.

Key takeouts

  • The WA Parliament Community Development and Justice Standing Committee published its report on sexual harassment and sexual assault against women in the FIFO mining industry.
  • The Report 'Enough is Enough' highlights systemic failures within the mining industry, placing pressure on mining companies to implement significant changes and address the culture within the industry.
  • The Committee handed down 24 recommendations, which, in addition to recent government guidelines and initiatives, provides much needed guidance to mining companies on how to address this serious issue.

The Committee tabled its long-awaited Report, 'Enough is Enough', following its inquiry into sexual harassment in the mining industry on 23 June 2022, outlining its findings and recommendations. The inquiry was called in June 2021 to look into the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault against women in the Fly-In Fly-Out mining industry.

There has been a significant spotlight on the mining industry and its culture in recent times, especially following the [email protected] Report which found that 74 per cent of women in the mining industry had experienced harassment in the last five years. The inquiry was aimed at gathering evidence and listening to the stories of those impacted by this serious human, economic and social issue.

A summary of the report

The terms of reference for the inquiry were broad, including:

  • consideration of the prevalence, nature, outcomes and reporting of sexual harassment in FIFO workplaces;
  • whether existing workplace practices and policies, such as rostering and recruitment practices and drug and alcohol policies adequately protect against sexual harassment;
  • the adequacy of current legislation governing the issue; and
  • any actions being taken by industry and government to improve the situation.

The Committee heard evidence from a variety of relevant parties including survivors of sexual harassment and assault, organisations including the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, the Equal Opportunity Commission, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA, mining companies and relevant unions.

The Committee discussed key issues with the parties, particularly drawing attention to the male-dominated nature of the mining industry, the prevalence of under-reporting of sexual harassment and sexual assault and the inadequacy of many employer's current policies, reporting procedures and training. Many companies gave evidence that there is a lack of clarity and guidance in relation to their obligations, an issue that featured significantly in the Report.

Report findings

The Report highlights 79 key findings of the inquiry. The culture and practices within the industry, which culminate to obstruct the systemic prevention and safe reporting of sexual harassment include:

  • Where people are found to have behaved unacceptably, there has been a practice of 'moving them on' rather than dealing with them more appropriately, including by dismissal.
  • Professional and health organisations are concerned by the ongoing risk of increased sexual harassment posed by excessive alcohol consumption at sites.
  • Women are underrepresented in the mining industry, making up 19.1 per cent of the total workforce.
  • There appears to have been effort to implement some degree of training about sexual harassment across the industry but it has not always been effective.
  • The fear of negative repercussions from reporting incidents of sexual harassment and assault is well known within the workforce and is a deterrent to those impacted by sexual harassment.
  • Mining companies have accepted they have often not reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault that have occurred in their operations and on their sites to DMIRS.

Report recommendations

The Committee handed down 24 recommendations. Most controversially, the Committee recommended that the industry explore ways to prevent perpetrators of serious sexual harassment simply finding employment on other sites and in other companies. The Committee recommended this involve:

  • Thorough exploration of an industry-wide workers' register or other mechanism such as industry-wide accreditation, taking into account natural justice considerations; and
  • Ensuring probity checks across the industry include consideration of harmful sexual behaviours.

The Committee noted that exploration of this option will not be without its challenges and will require careful consideration of individual rights and natural justice.

The Committee also recommended, among other things:

  • Mining companies implement moderate drinking standards for all FIFO accommodation sites;
  • Mining companies improve the gender balance in their workplaces;
  • The mining and resources sector actively work to reduce the risks caused by labour-hire and sub-contracting arrangements, including those stemming from the additional power male managers have over female workers seeking more secure employment with principal contractors;
  • Large mining companies and representative bodies develop a framework to assist all companies to review their workplace culture and processes;
  • The industry ensure that sexual harassment and assault training is accredited, fit-for-purpose, mandatory and ongoing for all employees and that additional specialist training is provided for people who must respond to incidents; and
  • Mining companies establish a number of internal and external options for reporting and obtaining support for incidents of sexual harassment and assault, of which all employees should be informed.

What this means for employers

The Committee's recommendations are directed to ensuring mining companies take action to implement policies and procedures, conduct training, establish adequate reporting systems, and offer appropriate support for their employees in addressing the culture of sexual harassment and other underlying contributors to sexual harassment. This will likely involve a consideration of factors, including deterrents to those impacted by sexual harassment reporting incidents (e.g. lack of trust that an appropriate response will be taken), anonymity when determining the correct forum for reporting or effectively investigating reports, and appropriate training and reporting structures for bystander reports.

Many companies have already started implementing changes following the AHRC's [email protected] Report and WA's new work health and safety legislation (with its emphasis on psychosocial hazards). Prior to the Committee's Report being handed down, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME), through its Safe and Respectful Behaviours Working Group, published an Industry Alcohol Guideline, which is directed at mining companies and advises on best practice for alcohol management on remote resources sector operations to reduce risk factors associated with alcohol use. The CME has also partnered with Lifeline WA to develop Resourceful Mind, a program aimed at delivering wellbeing training sessions, including specialist modules on the topic of workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Prior to the Report, the WA Government also announced its Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety program (MARS) directed at improving the health, safety and wellbeing of workers, specifically targeting the mining industry. The WA Government recently announced that $6.5 million of the State's current budget will be allocated to the MARS program, which will support a range of projects aimed at educating workplaces on violence prevention and providing mining companies with practical tools to tackle mental health and safety risks in the resources industry.

Work health and safety regulator WorkSafe Western Australia also recently published three new information sheets containing guidance on preventing and responding to workplace gendered violence, specifically targeting sexual harassment and sexual assault. Helpfully, one of the information sheets is directed at mine site gendered violence, detailing the WHS notification and reporting obligations relevant to mining employers.

The ongoing challenge

Some of the Committee's recommendations that focussed on the fundamental causes of sexual harassment will require significant and consistent cultural shifts across the industry. Echoing the [email protected] report, the Committee found embedded gender inequality and gendered incivility in the FIFO workforce was connected with low female participation rates. It found these characteristics created the conditions for sexual harassment to grow.

Led by the CME, the industry has been committed to improving female participation in the industry for many years. This has proved to be a hard task – the Committee found women make up only 20 percent of the mining workforce and this figure has remained largely unchanged since 2008.