The latest Western Mineworkers Alliance (WMWA) survey has found that one in five women working on Western Australian mining sites have experienced physical acts of sexual assault, and two thirds have experienced verbal harassment of a sexual nature, including jokes referring to sexual acts.
The industry survey also found that many women are reluctant to report abuse to management due to a deeply embedded culture of cover-up that prevents reporting and accountability.
Over half of the 125 women surveyed said they have experienced inappropriate staring or leering that made them feel intimidated and one in five have been offered improved conditions of employment or career advancement on account of them submitting to sexual favours, either explicitly or implicitly.
The WMWA is urgently calling for the establishment of an independent expert body to handle sexual harassment coverups in the wake of a survey, which also revealed one third of women have experienced unwanted touching or physical contact on site.
Despite the startling pervasiveness of sexual harassment and abuse in the industry, the majority of women and men claim they are not confident managers understand the prevalence of sexual harassment on site and in camp.
Almost half of the women surveyed said they did not believe that reports of sexual harassment were encouraged, and a mere one third think that their employers understand the prevalence.
Daniel Walton, a WMWA spokesperson and Australian Workers’ Union National Secretary, believes urgent changes are needed.
“While it’s shocking so many workers have been sexually abused at mine sites, what’s more shocking still is the mine management culture of cover-up and victim-punishment,” Walton said in a statement.
“Any victim of workplace sexual harassment or abuse should feel safe and protected when coming forward to their employer. That’s just clearly not the case at WA mines.
“The fact women believe they’ll be blacklisted as troublemakers if they come forward is a shameful indictment on the culture created by the big miners.
“Women are every bit as entitled to mining jobs as men. At the moment the culture created by management is telling women loud and clear they are not welcome.
“We cannot trust the big miners to do the right thing in this area. Their promises and assurances mean next to nothing on this issue. The only way to ensure victims feel safe to speak up is to establish an independent body so they know they won’t be punished and blacklisted.”
Tony Maher, Mining and Energy Union President, said the mining giants need to admit the problem and set up an independent body.
“Sexual harassment and abuse is a problem across society, but it’s a problem that’s been grotesquely amplified by mining employers,” Maher said.
“We know there’s an all-powerful culture of ‘get on with job or get out’ on these sites. Production is always the priority and sexual harassment and abuse are treated as an inconvenience.
“Victims know it’s a grave risk to their careers to come forward with an issues, because you’ll get blacklisted as a ‘trouble maker’.
“The stampede toward casualising jobs that were once permanent has accelerated the epidemic of sexual abuse on site. People who rely on being employed on a contract-to-contract basis know that if they speak up they’ll be labelled as an inconvenience and their work will dry up.
“Mine managers have done virtually nothing constructive to date to address this, because they prefer a head-in-the-sand approach. That’s why they should not be trusted with fixing the problem they created.
“Mining giants are very happy to feature smiling women in the PR and marketing materials, but as soon as it becomes mildly inconvenient to protect their safety at work they head for the hills.”