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23 Oct 2021 13:45
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  •   Home > News > International

    Former FIFO worker speaks out over alleged sexual harassment as mining industry's treatment of women faces scrutiny

    The treatment of women in Australia’s mining industry is under the spotlight, and one former FIFO worker is opening up about her experience.

    Emma Tweedie felt she'd landed her dream job when she was hired to drive dump trucks at the Roy Hill mine in Western Australia's Pilbara region.

    But the experience left her feeling depressed and anxious, with her case for alleged sexual harassment now being conciliated in the Human Rights Commission.

    "I've decided to speak out not only for me but hopefully it will give other women the confidence to have the encouragement and the faith within their community that you will be safe, you can speak out," she told 7.30.

    Ms Tweedie was employed by a contractor to Roy Hill. When she arrived at the mine site, she said a male colleague's behaviour concerned her.

    "[He] addressed me as sweetie, and baby and honey. He'd never referred to me as Emma," she told 7.30.

    "Sometimes if you'd walk past him, he'd growl at you, like a dog. Sometimes bark at you."

    Roy Hill has provided a lengthy statement addressing Ms Tweedie’s claims.

    Alcohol breath tests were mandatory at the mine site. Ms Tweedie said she was left feeling vulnerable after the man oversaw one of her daily tests.

    "He'd walked into the room and held the breathalyser down by his groin," she said. 

    "As I've entered into the room, he said, 'Close the door behind you and assume the position.'

    "I took it as he was either making a gesture to want to have sex with me or ask for sexual favours, like a blowjob.

    "As I've proceeded to do my [breathalyser] sample, he has come up close to the side of me and breathed down the side of me and commented, 'Look how cute your little lips are', and touched the back of my, sort of slid his hand down … my back."

    Ms Tweedie was rostered on night shifts. That night, she was placed with the man on light duties because of fatigue.

    "I had fallen asleep in the car and woke up in an unlit pit with no machinery around, no-one working, and him having a cigarette outside of the car, and you know, him telling me to join him for a cigarette," she said. 

    "I just said no I was fine and didn't want to have a cigarette and kept my hand on the two-way [radio].

    "I was scared that I was going to be taken advantage of in some sexual way."

    Ms Tweedie said nothing happened, but she was so rattled by the experience she reported it to a colleague the next day.

    "I had expressed those concerns for my safety and my wellbeing and he laughed in my face and thought it was a joke," she said.

    She said the colleague then apologised and said he would report it if it happened again.

    Aspirations for a career in mining

    Ms Tweedie was a FIFO worker. She would fly out to the mine site for one last set of shifts, to then be told her truck driving was not up to scratch. She said she acknowledged she needed more training.

    After returning to Perth, she received a call from her employer telling her she was no longer needed at Roy Hill.

    "I had these sorts of aspirations of wanting to get into a leadership role," she said. 

    "I guess now I feel as if I most definitely don't have a place in industrial mining."

    Next week, Ms Tweedie’s case will be conciliated in the Human Rights Commission, where she’s claiming sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal.

    Roy Hill declined an interview with 7.30 but said in a statement: "Protecting our people from sexual harassment and assault is an obligation that Roy Hill takes extremely seriously."

    It said Ms Tweedie's contract "was not extended due to her not adequately performing her essential job tasks" including "a significant safety breach".

    Roy Hill said it had carried out its own investigation and her claims of sexual harassment "weren't substantiated."

    The company said it will investigate new details Ms Tweedie had provided to the ABC, along with "any further new information she provides."

    Mining industry culture under scrutiny 

    Australia's mining industry is facing a reckoning, amid a raft of sexual assault and harassment allegations and a report which found 74 per cent of women had experienced poor treatment over the past five years.

    Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins was the author of that report. She found 34 per cent of men in the industry had also experienced sexual harassment.

    "I believe the situation in the mining industry is urgent," she said.

    "It's still a culture which is very much based on masculine values and women, in particular, have found there is a significant amount of sexism and sexual harassment that they have to tolerate just to survive in that industry."

    In Western Australia, a parliamentary inquiry has been set up to investigate the issue and hear women's lived experiences.

    In submissions to the committee, mining giant BHP disclosed receiving 91 allegations of sexual harassment at its WA mines over the past two years.

    In the past year, Rio Tinto had received 53 complaints and Fortescue Metals Group received 31.

    In June, the three companies took part in an unprecedented joint press conference to apologise to victims.

    Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable said the industry recognised sexual harassment was a nationwide problem and its members were committed to making mine sites safer for women.

    "The Minerals Council put out a statement to say that that sexual harassment is unlawful. It's unacceptable and it's preventable," Ms Constable said.

    "We want to see more women and gender equity in our workforce. So the measures that we take, the policies that we put in place are to encourage more women in the workforce.

    "We've seen women coming into the workforce – the numbers have doubled over the last 10 years.

    "We'd like to move a lot faster than that because the more diverse our workforce is, the more productive it is and the better it is, as a workplace."

    Ms Tweedie is now pursuing a career away from mining but said she wanted to see many more women enter the industry.

    "If I was to speak to some young women about entering into the mining industry, I would say go for it," she said.

    "I would also tell them to be extremely cautious and not to put up with any type of unsolicited behaviour or inappropriate behaviour that they encounter."

    Watch this story on 7.30 on ABC TV and iview.

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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