BHP has revealed to a parliamentary inquiry that in the past two years it has sacked 48 workers in relation to inappropriate sexual behaviour.
- A parliamentary inquiry is examining sexual harassment against women at Western Australian mine sites
- So far there have been more than 28 submissions made from various stakeholders
- BHP has revealed it has fired 48 workers in relation to inappropriate sexual behaviour in the past two years
The parliamentary inquiry will examine sexual harassment against women at Western Australian mine sites.
So far there have been 28 submissions from various stakeholders including Rio Tinto, Chevron, and the Australian Medical Association of WA.
In the past two years BHP, which operates several mine sites in the Pilbara region, said it had received 73 reports of inappropriate sexual behaviour at its mine sites.
In addition, there were also two cases of non-consensual sexual penetration, one of attempted non-consensual sexual penetration, and three cases involving non-consensual kissing or touching — with more reports still under investigation.
Submissions to the inquiry have outlined the escalating need to improve workplace culture and develop systems for the reporting of sexual assault and harassment.
BHP’s parliamentary submission revealed the reporting rate of allegations of sexual harassment had increased in recent years.
It attributed the increase to a growing awareness of the issue and society’s widespread intolerance of inappropriate behaviour.
Department of Mines and Energy CEO Paul Heithersay said cases of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour were still likely under-reported.
“I would assume that across the sector the numbers are larger than have been reported, that’s for a range of factors,” he said.
Alcohol considered a ‘risk factor’
Mr Heithersay said he did not have a problem with alcohol being banned in mining camps since drinking had been identified as a risk factor leading to aggressive and inappropriate behaviour.
From July 1, 2021, BHP changed some of its drinking rules including limits to the amount of alcohol consumed within a 24-hour period to four drinks per person, no alcohol to be consumed after 10:00pm, and the prohibition of stockpiling alcohol.
Rio Tinto also changed its alcohol policy in July, introducing a daily limit of four mid-strength drinks per person.
Chevron’s submission did not detail any changes to its drug and alcohol policy.
More needs to be done to improve workplace culture
Mr Heithersay said it was important for survivors, as well as witnesses, to report instances of sexual assault and harassment.
“I’ve seen men call out bad behaviour by other men on many occasions on mine sites … but is it happening in every instance? Obviously not, because these statistics don’t lie,” he said.
Mr Heithersay said the mining industry needed to conduct better screening before it hired workers to ensure perpetrators were not entering the sites.
He said security measures also needed to be improved.
“Mine sites have to be more secure. That means more security guards, more lighting, more CCTV, safe places, chaperones,” he said.
“We’ve got to make sure if people want to have accommodation amongst other women, we’ve got to look at realignment of accommodation options.
Need for gender-balanced workforce
Mr Heithersay said the mining industry needed to recruit more women as the sector is currently composed of only 20 per cent female employees.
“We’re not going to do better while these incidents of harm, assault, harassment or rape are going on,” he said.
Both Rio Tinto and Chevron’s submissions outlined their goals to increase the number of female workers through their graduate intake.
Rio Tinto’s submission said, in 2021, more than 61 per cent of its graduate intakes were female compared with 49 per cent in 2019.
Chevron said it aimed for 50 per cent gender diversity for hired graduates.
Since 2016, when BHP set its target to achieve a gender-balanced workforce by 2025, the company has increased its percentage of female workers from 17.6 to 29.8 per cent.