BHP’s iron ore operation in the Pilbara. Source: BHP
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  • BHP reveals that it sacked 48 employees over sexual harassment accusations in the previous two years
  • Media reports in July revealed two former BHP employees had been charged with raping co-workers which in part sparked a parliamentary inquiry
  • Rio Tinto says since January 2020 there was one reported case of sexual assault and 29 reported cases of sexual harassment which were substantiated
  • Fortescue has reported 31 sexual harassment matters raised across the 2020 and 2021 calendar years
  • Engineers Australia says the practice of requiring complainants to sign non-disclosure agreements means the nature of the problem is not transparent

As the big mining companies come under intense scrutiny over the shocking treatment of women in the West Australian mining industry, BHP has revealed 48 employees have been sacked over sexual harassment accusations in the past two years.

In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry, BHP revealed that between July 2019 and June 2021, it reviewed 73 ‘substantial reports’ to its ethics committee.

Many of these situations include unwanted comments or criticism, sexual jokes and unwelcome or improper electronic communications, as well as pictures.

BHP, which employs 13,500 people in WA, said it also received two reports containing allegations of rape, one report of attempted rape and three sexual assaults.

“We welcome these reports and are committed to investigating them thoroughly and taking action where inappropriate or unwanted behaviours are substantiated,” it said in its submission.

About $300 million has been set aside by BHP for the expedited development of the security at the villages to make them safer for women.

Media reporting in July revealed that two former BHP employees had been charged with raping co-workers, as workers in the mining sector laid bare a toxic culture at FIFO camps that sparked the parliamentary inquiry.

In Rio Tinto’s submission, it said since January 2020 it had one reported case of sexual assault and 29 reported cases of sexual harassment which had been substantiated.

The company, which employs more than 16,000 people in WA, said there was one allegation of sexual assault and 14 reports of sexual harassment under investigation while eight reported sexual harassment cases were unable to be substantiated.

“The trend towards greater reporting is encouraging as it reflects that those impacted, as well as bystanders, are increasingly comfortable to report an incident. This enables us to take appropriate action to address the behaviour,” Rio Tinto said in its report.

Fortescue, which has more than 11,000 FIFO workers out of its Pilbara operations, reported 31 sexual harassment matters raised across the 2020 and 2021 calendar years.

The company has implemented measures to try to make its workplace safer, but it conceded that some incidences were not reported. It has since conducted an anonymous survey for employees to report culture and safety issues.

Engineers Australia said the practice of requiring complainants to sign non-disclosure agreements means the nature of the problem is not transparent where sites can be out of sight and out of the mind of corporate leaders.

“Engineers Australia believes women are deterred from reporting sexual harassment to their organisations for fear of not being believed, not being credible (he said/she said) and/or potential retribution,” it said.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety said reporting of sexual harassment in the industry to the regulatory body has been “ad hoc and inconsistent”.

Number of alleged bullying and sexual assaults in the mining industry reported to Mines Safety Directorate of DMIRS

Calendar YearAlleged sexual assaultsAlleged bullying*Total
201521214
201611819
201701717
201832932
201932932
202031821
2021101929
Total22142164
Source: DMIRS’ Safety Regulation System, current as at 22 July 2021
*Of the 164 alleged bullying incidents reported to DMIRS during 2015 to 2021, ten of these incidents involved sexual harassment

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