On 21 September 2022 the WA Government tabled its response (Response) to the ‘Enough is Enough’ report (Report) made by the Western Australian Parliament’s Community Development and Justice Standing Committee following the Inquiry into sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry (Inquiry).
The Response was tabled by the Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister Johnston, and supported by the Minister for Women’s Interests, Minister McGurk. It accepts there are issues within the sector but makes clear that the WA Government considers no dedicated legal reform is warranted to implement the Report’s recommendations.
The WA Government’s strategy
While the WA Government generally accepted all of the Report’s recommendations (by either supporting, supporting in principle or noting these), a key theme in the Response is that the Government sees that primary obligation to ensure workplaces are safe, healthy and responsible rests with industry, which includes sexual harassment risk management. Such an approach is appropriate and consistent with the risk-based nature of safety laws, which are increasingly utilised to risk assess and control sexual harassment hazards at enterprise-level.
The WA Government’s strategy appears to be to support industry to drive a cultural shift in the mining sector. The Response acknowledges work already underway in other areas, including:
- existing avenues for those who experience sexual assault and harassment at work;
- work in progress to educate industry and review existing regulation, in particular by the Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety Program (MARS Program), and Elizabeth Shaw of PWC’s review of DMIRS;
- existing platforms that enable third party reporting of sexual harassment and WorkSafe WA’s 24/7 reporting line (but there is a commitment by the WA Government to review and promote these);
- work being undertaken by federal Parliament to implement the remainder of the recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s [email protected] report;
- Safe Work Australia’s updates to the model Work Health and Safety regulations regarding psychosocial hazards, following the Boland review; and
- the 163 recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission WA’s review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA), including the removal of the disadvantage test.
The widely discussed Report recommendations for an industry register of offenders and proposal for a redress scheme do not appear to be priority areas. The WA Government appears focussed on enhancing agency interface and regulatory guidance. For example, the WA Government has committed to:
- develop a memorandum of understanding between DMIRS/WorkSafe WA and the WA Police on the management of sexual harassment incidents at workplaces. This memorandum of understanding will outline the jurisdictional responsibilities of each organisation, as well as include a protocol for resolving matters where there is ambiguity;
- produce new guidance on non-disclosure agreements and a Code of Practice regarding mining and construction accommodation;
- review Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) guidance, to explain the planned reforms, once implemented; and
- an ‘Enough is Enough’ convention in the first part of 2023, as a way to drive cultural change across the mining industry.
The Response appropriately acknowledges that there is significant national momentum to eliminate sexual harassment from workplaces. There is a lot more work to be done, but never have there been more tools and momentum to achieve change. We are hopeful the further measures outlined in the Response, while limited, will be another step toward a world where it is a social norm for employees to work in workplaces that are free from sexual harassment, in the way that drink driving and not wearing seatbelts have been eliminated from accepted cultural practices within society.