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ComplianceLegalCorporateJune 23, 2022

Companies must do more to address sexual harassment in WA FIFO industry: report

By: Geeta Shyam
Sexual harassment remains rife in the Western Australian fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) industry, with women frequently having to endure an “appalling range of behaviours”, a committee report tabled in the state parliament reveals.

Describing the industry as an embodiment of the key risk factors for sexual harassment, the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee (the Committee) found that power imbalance was the biggest issue. During its inquiry of the hierarchical industry, the Committee heard about incidents where managers and supervisors demanded sexual favours from employees in return for promotions or job security.

Misuse of alcohol, gender imbalance and acceptance of the norm were other cultural problems that contributed to the prevalence of sexual harassment in the industry.

The Committee found that victims of sexual harassment had little expectation of punishment for perpetrators, undermining companies’ reliance on internal reporting systems. Often, perpetrators were moved to another site.

Companies and regulators were both found to have a limited understanding of the prevalence, extent and nature of sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces. While regulators do not receive comprehensive information from companies and lacked systems for dealing with such information, companies felt there was inadequate guidance on what they needed to inform regulators about.

Information sharing arrangements between regulators and WA Police were also flawed, the Committee found.

The Committee made 24 recommendations directed at the WA Government agencies, industry and resource companies.

Recommendations for mining and resource companies

While the Committee acknowledged that mining and resources companies had started working on preventing sexual harassment in their workplaces, it found much more needed to be done. The Committee recommended resource companies to:

  • Ensure there are serious repercussions for any person who seeks sexual favours for advantage, including dismissal
  • Implement moderate drinking standards for all FIFO accommodation sites
  • Improve gender balance, with a specific focus on site-level supervisor and management positions
  • Establish several internal and external options for reporting sexual harassment and assault incidents and for obtaining support

There was also a recommendation for large mining companies (and representative bodies) to develop a template/framework to assist all companies in reviewing their workplace culture, processes, and work and living conditions to identify factors that allow sexual harassment to continue.

Recommendations for mining and resource industry

There were several recommendations directed at the broader resource industry. These included recommendations to:

  • Find ways of preventing perpetrators of serious sexual harassment from finding reemployment at other sites or in other companies, such as through an industry-wide workers’ register or accreditation program
  • Reduce the risks which are heightened by high rates of labour-hire and sub-contracting, including considering appropriate proportions for such workers and reviewing information sharing arrangements
  • Develop acceptable standards for accommodation facilities, including in relation to security and other safety measures (eg lighting, locks, CCTV, public area layouts)
  • Ensure that sexual harassment and assault training is accredited, fit-for-purpose and delivered by suitable practitioners, with additional specialist training for people who formally respond to incidents

Recommendations for WA Government

The WA Government, including regulators and other agencies, were the subject of most of the Committee’s recommendations. Some of these recommendations were to:

  • Establish a forum where victims of historical workplace sexual harassment can be heard, documented and acknowledged, incorporating possible opportunities for redress (eg apologies from companies and/or perpetrators and compensation)
  • Prepare regular, anonymous, independently administered surveys and/or audits to understand the extent, impacts, reporting of, and responses to, sexual harassment and assault in the workplace (including in accommodation camps)
  • Explore options, such as audits and surveys, to conduct investigations which do not compromise a complainant’s anonymity
  • Ensure appropriate information sharing arrangements between the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS)/WorkSafe WA and the WA Police Force
  • Work with industry bodies to explore options for industry-funded anonymous reporting platforms to complement existing company reporting systems
  • Work with mining peak bodies to develop appropriate education and training for bystanders on when and how to report incidents of sexual harassment
  • Work with industry bodies to investigate and monitor recent and current use of non-disclosure agreements and private settlements relating to allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and explore options for issuing formal guidance to inhibit their future use
  • Ensure timely implementation of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission review into the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, focusing on reversing the onus of proof on victims of sexual harassment, removing the “disadvantage” test, and making it consistent with recent anti-discrimination law from other jurisdictions
  • Review the WA regulatory framework to ensure that there is a consistent and comprehensive definition of “sexual harassment” across all the relevant components of the system
  • Develop comprehensive standards and guidelines to enable the integration of sexual harassment into work health and safety practice
  • Work with the mining industry, relevant unions, and other stakeholders to establish a fully resourced, culturally appropriate expert group within WorkSafe WA with specialist expertise, experience and training to investigate, assess and deal with reports of sexual harassment and assault and related offences in the mining industry

Independent expert to review DMIRS’ response protocols

On 22 June 2022, a day before the tabling of the Committee’s report, the WA Government announced an independent review into DMIRS’ protocols for responding to sexual harassment and assault incidents.

The review is to be undertaken by Elizabeth Shaw from PwC Australia, who is expected to deliver her findings in late 2022.

The review will cover DMIRS’ enforcement model, organisational capabilities and regulatory responses to sexual harassment incidents on mining sites.

DMIRS information sheets on sexual harassment

Meanwhile, the WorkSafe WA published the following information sheets on 21 June 2022:

Learn more on CCH Pinpoint: Topic Guide — Sexual harassment.

Geeta Shyam
Geeta Shyam
Content Specialist, Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting, Asia Pacific
  1. Community Development and Justice Standing Committee, ‘Enough is Enough’: Sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry (Report No. 2), June 2022, accessed 23 June 2022.
  2. Bill Johnston and Simone McGurk, Major boost for workplace mental health and mines safety, [media release], 22 June 2022, accessed 23 June 2022.
  3. WorkSafe WA, accessed 23 June 2022.
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