Poignant stories in FIFO report of women at WA mine sites show why action is needed for all
“Enough is Enough” is more than the title of yesterday’s stark assessment of the treatment of women in Western Australia’s mining industry.
Warning: This story contains content that may offend some readers.
Taken from the plea of one of the inquest’s witnesses, tired of a toxic and often predatory culture in a male-dominated industry, this is an ultimatum to which both government and industry must respond.
The report’s findings and recommendations are based on the testimonies of 55 people, “virtually all” who have shared experiences of sexual harassment or assault.
Across four harrowing pages, the investigative report directly quotes 29 accounts of sexual harassment and assault suffered by women at WA mining sites and in the fly-in, fly-out industry.
They show, in the words of Inquiry Chairperson Libby Mettam, why “swift and urgent action” is the only acceptable response.
In the victims’ own words
The following quotes are taken directly from the investigation report.
“I was knocked out in my donga after coming back from laundry one night. When I woke up, my jeans and underpants were around my ankles, I felt sick, ashamed, violated, dirty and very confused. “
“Men came into my camp room and pushed me onto my bed and kissed me, I was lucky it ended there, some girls didn’t and some guys. I’ve come into my camp room on some occasions to find men passed out in my bed and men rummaging through my underwear drawer.”
“An employee walked into the reception area and made a comment about a new girl starting this week. His comment was ‘I hope I can get sticky fingers when she starts.’ team laughed, I objected and said to be careful, I was then warned not to be a pussy.”
“I’ve been locked in laundries. I’ve been pushed into rooms. Sexual rumors were circulating about me, to the point where people were knocking on the door…asking f**k.”
“They quite often had a coffee table on the side that you could put your bag on and that. Every night I would pull it outside my door, so at least if someone came into my room they would fall over and that would give me a opportunity. I look back now and it was so normal, and I’m just amazed.
After the report was published, former FIFO employee Becky Felstead also shared her experiences.
“During my first two weeks, someone asked me if I’d like to be bent over a table,” she said.
What followed, Ms Felstead said, was co-workers downplaying the harassment, saying “it’s just FIFO, that’s how it is”.
Mining companies given formal notice
Yesterday brought the expected comments from the big miners and their leaders.
“Any instance of sexual assault or sexual harassment on-site or in work-adjacent environments is completely unacceptable, and the health and safety of our workers must always be the industry’s number one priority,” said Rob, Chief the Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME). said Carruthers.
It is true that progress has been made, with Rio Tinto releasing an internal workplace culture review earlier this year, while BHP last year committed $300 million in upgrades to improve safety. on its sites.
The CME has also introduced industry guidelines, including limiting workers to four drinks every 24 hours on site, and working groups are considering what more can be done.
“It is now up to them to see if they will not just talk about it, but if they will actually keep their promises,” was the message from the Minister for Women’s Interests, Simone McGurk, to the sector.
Report wants to include ‘serious repercussions’ for people trying to seek sexual favors for advantage, more women in leadership positions and more options for getting help after hearing about failures corporate HR structures.
It was also urged to find ways to reduce the risks exacerbated by the high rates of hiring and outsourcing of labour, including “diluted” lines of responsibility and reporting, and power increased managers and supervisors on career certainty.
And while the sector was unhappy with having to develop an industry-wide system to prevent offenders from being re-employed at other sites, the report made it clear that it should be looked into. from close.
Given that the resource industry raked in $230 billion in sales in WA last year alone, its already compromised social license will receive another blow if it does not act soon.
The state government has asked to do more
The government did not emerge unscathed from the report, as it was named in more than half of the recommendations of the inquiry.
Jodie Hanns, a member of the committee and Labor MP for Collie-Preston, was quick to dismiss the government from its role in the situation.
“The task of solving this problem for women in mining cannot be the responsibility of the taxpayers of Western Australia,” she told parliament.
But the inquiry report clearly indicates that the government has work to do.
This includes considering a forum to “hear, document and acknowledge” the experiences of victims, and undertaking regular surveys or audits to assess the scale and impact of the problem.
It was acknowledged that the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) had made improvements to the way it handled reports of harassment or assault, but the report noted that they were “late and insufficient”.
A fundamental problem is that many companies have admitted to not reporting incidents to the regulator, in part because they were not required to do so in some cases.
This led to a situation where WA Police had investigated 23 reports over two years, while DMIRS had only received 22 reports over seven years.
And although DMIRS and WorkSafe WA were found to have improved their ability to manage psychosocial safety, the report states that they remain “under-prepared to address sexual harassment as a health and safety issue in the workplace. work”.
Earlier this week the department appointed a workplace culture expert to review its responses to sexual harassment and assault, and more changes have already been introduced or are just around the corner.
A long way to go
As WA Mines Minister Bill Johnston pointed out yesterday, the responsibility for change lies with the whole of society, even if he targeted the sector anyway.
“If the resource industry is going to take advantage of the skills and capabilities of half the workforce, it’s clear the industry will have to improve its performance,” he said.
But real change will require everyone – from workers to those who pass the laws that govern them – on board.
It will mean a lot of heavy lifting in the industry for real and meaningful change to be seen, as the survey noted that “statements of regret were sincere but limited, and rarely included acceptance of responsibility for letting things happen”.
It is hoped that this historic report will lead to change.
“It’s exciting that the inquiry is here because there’s no turning back,” Ms Felstead said.
But it remains to be seen whether this is really enough.
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