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Mining bosses invite complaints about poor work environment

Rio Tinto safety equipment
Rio Tinto safety equipment

A multinational resources company is keen to hear about substandard employment conditions.

Rio Tinto management recently invited employees to come forward with their experiences in workplace bullying, harassment, or sexual assault.

“In 2021 we launched the Everyday Respect initiative to help us create a safer, more respectful and more inclusive environment by preventing and improving how we respond to unacceptable behaviour in the workplace,” chairman Simon Thompson said at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM).

“It is clear – both from the findings of the Everyday Respect taskforce and the tragedy at Juukan Gorge – that we must create a work environment where everyone feels safe and empowered to speak up if something is not right.”

More than 10,000 employees and contractors have already participated in the initiative, which independently reported dozens of recommendations to improve Rio’s work environment.

“Findings in the report are deeply confronting and we are determined to implement all 26 recommendations set out in the report,” chief executive Jakob Stausham said at the AGM.

“We have already upgraded some site facilities and launched our new confidential reporting programme MyVoice [and,] with the executive team’s commitment, we can make a positive and lasting change and make Rio Tinto a less hierarchical, more humane place to work.”

The eight-month review heard widespread allegations about bullying and sexual abuse across multiple Rio operations. It found 28.2 per cent of females and 6.7 per cent of males recently experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. A total of 21 women reported actual and attempted rape or sexual assault during the past five years.

The external investigation, led by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, successfully substantiated one case of sexual assault and 29 cases of sexual harassment within Rio’s fly-in fly-out operations since the beginning of 2020.

The review also found almost half of Rio team members surveyed complained about suffering workplace bullying and sexism. Almost 80 per cent of the employer’s 45,000-strong workforce is male.

Respondents were most concerned about the lack of security in wash cabins and walking long distances to bathrooms.

These allegations prompted Stausholm to profusely apologise to every affected coworker. Rio also reduced short-term incentive payments for all executives by 5 per cent due to workplace harassment. The employer also cut former CEO Jean Sebastien Jacques’ bonus and deferred his share issues worth £147,465 (A$275,421).

“Many of our employees have experienced bullying, racism and sexism, [and] I offer my heartfelt apology to every team member, past and present who has suffered because of these behaviours – this is not the kind of company we want to be,” Stausham said.

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AMSJ April 2022