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Horrific’ incidents revealed in Australia mining inquiry

The inquiry into sexual harassment was ordered after numerous allegations from women in the mining industry.

A landmark inquiry into Australia’s mining sector has uncovered dozens of shocking cases of sexual harassment and abuse of women workers at companies including BHP Group and Rio Tinto Group.

The Western Australia government report released Thursday described “horrific” incidents at the workplaces, which it labeled both a failure of the industry and an oversight by government. Among recommendations were the payment of compensation to the many workers who became victims of bosses and colleagues on remote projects.

“I was shocked and appalled well beyond expectation by the size and depth of the problem,” Libby Mettam, chair of the inquiry said in the report. “To hear the lived reality of the taunts, attacks and targeted violence, the devastation and despair the victims experienced, the threats to or loss of their livelihood that resulted was shattering and completely inexcusable.”

The inquiry into sexual harassment was ordered after numerous allegations from women in the so-called Fly In-Fly Out mining industry, where employers transport their workers to and from remote areas.

Among the allegations of abuse revealed in the report were:

  • A woman involved in a safety issue was told by a supervisor she could “make the issue go away” if she had sex with him
  • Another was knocked unconscious in her room and woke up undressed with her jeans around her ankles
  • Another described how a man forced his hands down her top several times in front of other workers and “no one did anything”
  • After complaining about colleagues making sexual jokes about her, a woman said her supervisor’s response was to “force himself on her”
  • Sex dolls and toys placed in women’s sleeping quarters; stalking, texting, provocative photo requests
  • “Shoveling”, where iron ore was dumped inside the vehicles of women drivers who didn’t comply with sexual requests

“This represents a failure of the industry to protect its workers and raises real questions about why government was not better across this safety issue,” said Mettam.

The report revealed that between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2021, BHP Group recorded 91 reports of alleged sexual harassment or assault, 79 of which were “substantiated.” Rio Tinto, from January 2020 to August 2021, received 51 complaints of sexual harassment or assault in FIFO operations, including one “substantiated” report of sexual assault and 29 “substantiated” reports of sexual harassment.

“Rio will closely study the report’s recommendations,” Rio’s iron ore chief Simon Trott said in an emailed statement. “The courage of people coming forward to tell their stories has been critical in terms of shining a light on behaviours that must change within our company and our industry.”

Chevron will also review the findings and the inquiry has “provided a critical opportunity to learn, act and improve,” the company said in a statement.

Allegations of abuse were also received at projects operated by Woodside Petroleum, Fortescue Metals Group, and Chevron Corp.

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