Sexual harassment in mining 'alarming', says Minerals Council of Australia

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Australia’s resources industry has backed tougher rules to prevent workplace sexual harassment, describing its pervasiveness within mining as “alarming”.

A report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins last year found 40 per cent of mining workers had experienced sexual harassment at work.

Women were twice as likely to be harassed than their male colleagues.

Ms Jenkins has called for the Sex Discrimination Act to be amended to include a “positive duty” for employers to ensure measures are in place to prevent sexual discrimination and harassment, similar to workplace safety laws.

The Minerals Council of Australia, which represents major players including Rio Tinto and BHP, has thrown its support behind the measure.

Chief executive Tania Constable told a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday that existing legislation was “clearly not working” to prevent such issues.

“If it was, we would not see high numbers of sexual harassment across industries, not least of all the minerals industry,” she said, describing the statistics as “alarming, unacceptable and profoundly disappointing”.

Other business groups including the Australian Industry Group have resisted calls for employers to be legally obliged to prevent harassment.

They argue sexual harassment is banned under existing rules and employers could be exposed to multiple penalties for the same incident.

Several women have come forward to police in recent weeks detailing claims of sexual assaults at major WA mines.

Senior executives from BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group, Woodside and Newmont last month held a joint press conference to apologise to victims of harassment and back calls for a state parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

BHP earlier this year introduced alcohol limits for workers at its camps amid concerns about a culture of heavy drinking.

Ms Constable said the MCA recommended its members follow national health guidelines that workers should be limited to four standard drinks per day.

“I wouldn’t like you to think that alcohol is the only driver of sexual harassment in any workplace, including the mining industry,” she told the inquiry.

“It is an aspect that will be addressed.”

She said the industry was male-dominated – just 18 per cent of workers are female – and included a high proportion of fly-in, fly-out workers.

Improving employee diversity within the industry would be a key to stamping out inappropriate behaviour, she said.

The MCA this month released a national industry code on eliminating sexual harassment.

Member companies are required to provide alternative working arrangements to assist victims, facilitate access to support services and take reasonable steps to prevent “victimisation or reprisals”.

Criminal conduct must be referred to authorities and outcomes of completed investigations communicated in a timely manner.