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Authorities investigate ‘shocking’ work environment allegations

Roy Hill accommodation
Roy Hill accommodation

Officials are examining whether a mine site fostered substandard employment conditions.

Police and representatives from the Western Australian Department of Mines Industry Regulation and Safety recently launched an investigation into “shocking” allegations a contractor sexually assaulted a female coworker at Hancock Prospecting’s Roy Hill Mine, 370km southeast of Port Hedland.

“The reporting individual was provided with immediate support by their contracting company and Roy Hill, and the incident was referred to the police. In conjunction with the contractor’s employer, the alleged perpetrator has been removed from site and is assisting the police with the investigation,” a Roy Hill spokesperson said in a public statement.

“Roy Hill is providing full cooperation to the police and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety in their investigations, and requests privacy for the individual concerned.”

The employer claimed it places “utmost priority” on protecting employee physical and psychological safety. It also bolstered security and guards are available to escort anyone across the mine site.

“We have also taken steps to ensure all people feel comfortable using our facilities, for example by opening a female-only gym,” it said.

The spokesperson then invited colleagues to give candid feedback on their experiences at the company, promising no repercussions if they come forward.

“We work hard to provide a respectful and inclusive workplace where every person feels safe, and where they are encouraged and supported to speak up. Any actions contrary to this will not be tolerated,” the spokesperson said.

State Mines and Petroleum, Energy, Corrective Services and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston confirmed Roy Hill CEO Gerhard Veldsman phoned him about this “shocking incident” on June 18.

“WA Police are currently investigating and WorkSafe will identify if there has been any breach of the Work Health and Safety Act by the company,” the minister said according to Seven West Media.

The remarks came ahead of a widely anticipated final report on the state inquiry into sexual harassment against women in the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) mining industry.

Nearly 260 individuals alleged they suffered sexual harassment during their time at BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group, DT Workforce and more. However, none of these employers faced litigation over “unequivocally unacceptable” failures to report such incidents at the time of publication.

“The department is reviewing responses from mining companies it had requested to provide further information on their failure to report to the department incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault raised at the parliamentary inquiry hearings in October 2021, and will make an assessment of the appropriate steps to take in response,” WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said according to the media outlet.

“Once a decision to prosecute is reached in relation to any potential breach, WorkSafe will communicate about those decisions … [and] a range of enforcement options can be taken including issuing improvement notices, prohibition notices and prosecution.”

Some inquiry findings have already been considered for the new Kambalda Village Accommodation, 57km southeast of Kalgoorlie.

The Shire of Coolgardie revealed it is already implementing some recommendations at the lifestyle-oriented development, which is expected to start operating in late November 2022.

Meanwhile, Rio Tinto estimates about 3200 women from Australia and New Zealand have already applied for Transferable Pathways job vacancies between April and May 2022.

The recruitment drive targeted inexperienced jobseekers from defence, aviation, government, human resources, education and other industries.

“The response to both of these campaigns has been overwhelming, and it is encouraging to see women keen to enter our industry as we work to create a more inclusive and diverse environment,” Rio Australia CEO Kellie Parker said in a public statement.

“Our recent review into workplace culture, the everyday respect report, showed clearly that we need to foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce, which includes increasing the number of women in our business.”

Click here to download the full report.

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AMSJ April 2022