Disturbing findings of bullying, sexual harassment, racism and discrimination against LGBQTI+ throughout Rio Tinto demonstrate that there is much to do to change the culture in the mining sector. Businesses who work in the mining sector need to understand their workplace culture and take proactive steps to minimise the risk of physical and psychological harm.
Mining giant Rio Tinto released a report last week (on 1 February 2022) after an independent external review was conducted by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick. The key findings include:
- Nearly 50% of the workforce had experienced bullying
- Nearly 30% of women had experienced sexual harassment
- 21 women reported actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
- Racism is common across a number of areas and nearly 40% of ATSI men and 31% of women, had experienced racism.
Ms Broderick found mining camps where workers fly or drive in and stay on site (FIFO and DIDO sites), were the worst workplaces with closer to 60% of women saying they were bullied and 43% reporting sexual harassment. Many contractors she interviewed also said that they had experienced abuse on site. Women reported being exposed to pornography, inappropriate comments and requests for sexual favours, verbal abuse, aggression and leering, resulting in creating a culture of intimidation and fear.
The report outlines 26 recommendations which Rio has committed to implementing. The recommendations were grouped into 5 key areas and include:
- Caring leadership- The CEO and Executive Committee committing to implement the recommendations and overseeing their implementation. Ensuring Leaders understand their responsibilities and take action on incidents, emphasising accountability.
- A positive onus to prevent Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination – through development of policy and principles; using the existing safety risk assessment and management tools to address harmful behaviours; specialised education for all employees with particular focus on prevention and responses and the role of the active bystander/upstander.
- Caring/human centre response – establish a discrete reporting unit to offer support, guidance and early intervention and ensure properly conducted investigations into harmful behaviours.
- Embed, sustain, monitor and evaluate progress of cultural reform – using the existing Everyday Respect Taskforce to drive the recommendations and track key KPIs, reporting quarterly to the Executive Committee and Board; re-administering the Everyday Respect survey every 2-3 years; and an independent review of the implementation of these recommendations within 2 years.
- Ensure appropriate facilities for all – including urgently addressing any unsafe FIFO/camp sites with a focus on safety of women (e.g., review of gyms, bathrooms, wet mess, accommodation locations, lighting and security.)
Chevron has announced that it will also commission an independent workplace review in the coming months. Bill Johnston, WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum has said that Rio’s report had set a precedent for other mining companies. “I encourage other companies to follow suit as it’s the right thing to do for one of their most important assets, their staff,” he said.
Debby Blakey, CEO of $68 billion industry super fund HESTA, has also called for other mining companies to consider undertaking workplace reviews. “The findings of the Rio workplace culture report that sexual harassment, racism and bullying were systemic are extremely concerning for investors and potentially point to broader issues across the mining sector,” she said.
Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, has commended Rio for commissioning and publishing the results of its review, noting that it is “a significant shift from the common approach of denial, secrecy, and lack of proactive action that we identified for many Australian workplaces as a barrier to safety and respect.” Ms Jenkins also noted that the industry was identified as “an industry that required urgent collective action” in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2020 Respect@Work report.
The Rio report comes after last year’s media reports that sexual harassment and assault was rife across the WA resources sector and a State Parliamentary Inquiry was set up to investigate sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry. The Parliamentary Inquiry is due to hand down its report in April 2022.
What does this mean for businesses working in the mining sector?
In light of these alarming findings, it would be prudent now for all businesses working in the mining sector, including contractors, to consider engaging an independent external organisation to conduct a workplace review to understand their employees’ experience. Employers must take proactive steps to understand the workplace culture and to take action to eliminate sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. Given the heightened awareness of the risks in the industry, particularly on FIFO and DIDO sites, employers would be failing their employees and potentially be exposed to increased legal and reputational risk in ignoring this issue.
Chevron gears up for a FIFO workplace Review West Australian 4 February 2021, p70.
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