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Sexual harassment at Australian mines 'shocking,' 'horrific,' gov't report finds

Sexual harassment at Australian mines 'shocking,' 'horrific,' gov't report finds
A government inquiry released Thursday found "horrific" conditions of sexual harassment and assault for women workers at Western Australia mine sites. File Photo by Kim Christian/EPA-EFE

June 23 (UPI) -- Women working in Western Australia's mining sector are subject to "horrific" sexual harassment and abuse representing a "systematic" failure of industry and government oversight, a parliamentary report concluded Thursday.

A committee of state lawmakers released the report after a nearly yearlong inquiry triggered by numerous women filing police complaints.

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"I knew horrific stories would be brought forward," Libby Lettam, chairwoman of the committee wrote in the report. "But I was shocked and appalled well beyond expectation by the size and depth of the problem."

Dozens of women shared their testimonies about conditions at Western Australia's mines, most of which operate under "fly-in, fly-out" systems, where workers stay for weeks at a time at remote sites.

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One worker described being knocked unconscious in her on-site housing and waking up with her jeans and underpants around her ankles.

"I felt sick, ashamed, violated, dirty and very confused," she told the inquiry.

Another told the story of having a near-accident while driving a truck and being told by her supervisor that he would make the safety investigation "go away" if she had sex with him. She was also told she would have to "get on her knees" to be hired for a permanent job with the company.

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The report described an environment of near-constant harassment and unwanted advances at the mining camps, as well as multiple incidents of stalking, offers of job advancement for sexual favors and violent assaults.

"I have been to about half a dozen sites, and I can truthfully state that I have been sexually harassed at every single one of them," one women said in her testimony.

A human rights study cited in the report found that 74% of women working in the mining industry reported being sexually harassed in the past five years. The report also pointed to a survey of Western Mine Workers' Alliance members that said 32% of women had received requests for sexual favors, and that 22% had the requests linked to working conditions or career advancement

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Mining dominates Western Australia's economy, generating hundreds of billions of dollars a year for the massive, sparsely populated state from corporate giants including Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals Group.

The inquiry called for sweeping changes throughout the industry, from on-site security and safety measures to a complete overhaul of reporting procedures and investigations among both companies and government agencies.

"It is completely inexcusable and simply shocking that this could be taking place in the 21st century in one of the state's most lucrative industries," Mettam wrote.

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"This represents a failure of the industry to protect its workers and raises real questions about why the government was not better across this safety issue."

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