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Corporate failure in FIFO mining sector to protect workers from sexual assault and harassment

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Sexual harassment is rife in FIFO

The inquiry found that sexual harassment in the FIFO mining sector is pervasive and widespread, with mining companies often failing to accept responsibility for allowing the situations to arise.

These companies profess that the safety of their employees is their highest priority. The level of sexual harassment and assault at work shows otherwise

Clearly, more needs to be done.  The mining industry has improved its safety practices over the years to reduce potentially fatal incidents (PFIs) and workplace fatalities, and reporting on the all-injury frequency rate (AIFR) has become the norm.  The safety lens now needs to sharpen its focus on sexual assault, sexual harassment and the psychological injury it causes.

Major risk factors for workplace sexual assault and harassment

As identified in the report, mining in general, and FIFO in particular, has long had all of the major risk factors for workplace sexual harassment:

  • Poor culture, where incivility is normalised, so called “high performers” are protected and alcohol is misused
  • FIFO, where employees live on-site, and the boundaries between work and private lives are blurred
  • Structural power disparity, where supervisors have relatively unfettered power over dismissal, promotion and reward 
  • Gender inequality, with rigid role stereotypes, underrepresentation of women in the industry generally (<20%), and significant underrepresentation in site supervision and managerial roles
  • Lack of trusted processes to raise concerns in a confidential way and with confidence that action will be taken

The report has highlighted the significance of the problem and the need for change. 

Sexual assault and harassment chronically underreported

For many women, speaking to the inquiry was the first time they had told their story to anyone because they feared retaliation.  Many of the people who made submissions were ignorant of the mechanisms for reporting, or clearly mistrusted them.  In fact recent Australian research suggests only 1 in 5 sexual harassment incidents are reported in Australia and only 1 in 2 bystanders speak up.  Assaults are often not reported because victim survivors and bystanders fear the repercussions and some victim survivors feel deeply ashamed, blaming themselves.

Build better workplace cultures

An organisation cannot change what it does not know about.  For this reason, it is critical that leaders make it safe and easy for people to speak up and organisations provide robust systems for preventing, detecting and responding to sexual harassment and other work health and safety risks.

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