The powerful #MeToo wave sweeping Australia is increasing pressure on mining and political leaders who are bracing for a reckoning over sexual harassment scandals from the dry Outback to Parliament House.
Thousands of women have revealed a culture of bullying and abuse in mining, the country’s economic engine, and other industries over the last 18 months, generating public indignation and promises of immediate action from politicians and CEOs.
In the run-up to the May 21 national election, the political reaction to allegations of workplace harassment is a hot topic, with the ruling conservative coalition facing claims of sexual impropriety and bad treatment of an alleged rape case inside the parliament complex in Canberra.
Meanwhile, mining corporations are preparing for the release next month of a Western Australian study into sexual harassment at their operations in the state, which is largely expected to focus on their internal complaint processing.
Former Australian sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said, “Survivors of sexual misconduct should no longer live in dread, humiliation, or silence.” “Others will listen when one lady talks. I urge those in positions of leadership in the mining and resources industries to listen to these stories, learn from them, and take decisive action.”
Six women told the media they had been sexually harassed or bullied at Australian mining sites in the last 18 months. The majority of the alleged occurrences occurred after Western Australia’s well publicized investigation, which warned the sector to clean up its act, was started last August.
According to copies of the complaint and termination letter reviewed by media, Kylie-Jayne Schippers, a kitchen and maintenance worker at a remote mine owned by Adani Group, was fired in December 2021, two days after filing a complaint of sexual harassment and bullying that she claimed made her afraid to enter the site’s communal dining room.
On Dec. 20, Schippers submitted a formal complaint with her employer, Sodexo, stating that an unknown individual disseminated a message around the camp falsely purporting to be from her, proposing to supply a male engineer sexual favors at the site in exchange for favorable treatment.
According to her termination letter from Sodexo, she was fired on December 22 for “failure to comply to reasonable and authorized managerial directives.” According to the letter, her complaint was reviewed and “no finding of bullying or harassment was proven.”
“I was terrified, had a lot of anxiety and sadness,” Schippers, 48, said, adding that the incident led her to leave the field. “All they did was sweep everything under the rug and get rid of me so they wouldn’t have to deal with it.”
Schippers’ complaint “was examined quickly before being settled,” according to Sodexo, and her “job was later terminated for reasons unconnected to the grievance.”
Adani, which has renamed its Australian branch Bravus, claimed its employees helped Schippers throughout her ordeal and provided witness testimonies for the inquiry by Sodexo. “This is now a concern for the contractor and the employee,” it continued, referring to the conclusion of the probe.
The mining industry is the backbone of the economy, accounting for 11% of national production and producing more than half of the world’s iron ore. One of the world’s largest undeveloped coal seams is Adani’s Carmichael project in Queensland.
However, the 150,000-strong workforce is primarily male (56%) and hasn’t changed much since the industry’s inception over a century ago.
Melissa McLellan, a maintenance supervisor for BHP Group in Western Australia, claimed she submitted a gender discrimination complaint after being passed up for greater responsibility in June 2021. According to documents and transcripts acquired by the media, she was suspended from responsibilities three days later for a “fitness for work” examination because she appeared weary, posing a possible safety risk.
McLellan, 37, who departed in January due to bullying, said, “It’s employment for the lads.” “You’re merely a second-class passenger.”
McLellan’s complaints of bullying and harassment, according to BHP, were swiftly examined and deemed to be “unsubstantiated.” “We regret that Ms McLellan did not have a pleasant experience with us,” a spokeswoman continued, adding that the firm was dedicated to fostering a secure atmosphere for individuals to speak out.
The majority of the women who talked to the media, including McLellan and Schippers, claimed their attorneys had filed or were prepared to file compensation claims against the corporations in issue with the Fair Work Commission, a national workplace tribunal.
The FWC will not comment on specific situations.
Only a small percentage of the industry’s employees is involved in such situations. They do, however, accord with a report released in February by Rio Tinto into its own culture, which documented a culture of bullying, harassment, and racism, which CEO Jakob Stausholm called as “systematic.”
Former discrimination commissioner Broderick undertook the evaluation, which was based on the experiences and opinions of more than 10,000 workers. It showed that about 30% of women had encountered sexual harassment at work, with 21 women alleging real or attempted rape or sexual assault.
The government’s reaction to sexual harassment and discrimination is being closely scrutinized.
A national outcry over workplace harassment and discrimination, according to political commentators, has been a major factor in women’s disapproval of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government, with opposition politicians and equality campaigners accusing the government of avoiding necessary reforms.
Female voters were evenly split between the government and the opposition Labor Party in early 2021. According to pollster Roy Morgan, by April of this year, less than 40% of women expected to vote for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s administration.
The alleged rape in parliament case, in which a former worker was accused in March 2019 with sexually abusing a colleague in a ministry office, provoked countrywide demonstrations. Morrison and the government later offered a public apology for Australia’s treatment of women.
The former employee disputes the allegations, and the matter will be heard later this year in court.
Equality groups want mining corporations to lose their ability to probe internal allegations of bullying and sexual harassment, and instead establish an independent oversight agency.
The federal government has moved on some of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s recommendations to combat workplace harassment, but not all, and maintains that current rules should cover many sorts of complaints.
The Minerals Council of Australia, an industry group, says it supports giving the Australian Human Rights Commission the authority to probe workplace sexual discrimination, but only within “well specified” criteria to ensure procedural fairness and minimize reputational harm.
Since its inception in November, a mechanism for persons to get a “stop sexual harassment” order – akin to a restraining order – from the Fair Work Commission against alleged offending parties in the workplace has proven ineffectual.
The Commission told the media that 17 persons applied for the orders in the first three months of the program’s existence, but none were granted, the first time such numbers have been made public.
The FWC’s spokeswoman declined to comment on why no anti-sexual harassment orders had been issued, but did say that certain complaints “may still be active or may have been finalized without an order being made… or withdrawn.”
Karen O’Connell, a law professor at the University of Technology who advised the government panel that proposed the measures, said the orders were overly restrictive since they did not interfere when a complainant resigned or when a suspected harasser was transferred to another department.
“Those halt sexual harassment orders are still vital and they need to exist,” O’Connell said, adding that rules requiring corporations to establish a safe atmosphere would be more successful.
“It’s ludicrous to expect a single person to rise up and take on the entire system.”