Iron ore majors tighten security amid Western Australian sexual harassment inquiry


FILE PHOTO: A worker checks a truck loaded with iron ore at the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) Christmas Creek iron ore mine located south of Port Hedland in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Regan

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Major Australian iron ore companies say they are increasing security measures at remote mine sites and improving training to try to change an industry culture that has seen high rates of sexual assault.

Measures will also include cutting down on excess drinking of alcohol at the fly in, fly out "FIFO" camps, mining executives told a Western Australian state inquiry.

Sexual harassment is rife at mining camps in the state, which provides more than half of the world's supply of iron ore, submissions to the government inquiry showed in August.

The inquiry, which will report its findings next year, was initiated after high-profile cases of sexual assault by miners emerged.

Women make up roughly one in five workers at the camps and critics have said recreation facilities have become hubs for drinking alcohol and created poor camp cultures that miners need to address.

The companies are improving lighting at camps, adding security such as staff, CCTV and new locks, as well as revamping training to focus on respect and cutting down access to alcohol, executives from Fortsecue Metals Group and Rio Tinto said this week, adding to BHP Group's comments earlier this month.

Fortescue Chief Executive Elisabeth Gaines told the inquiry this week that as well as improving physical safety features at its camps it was revising training around workplace culture, behaviour and leadership.

It will also limit the purchase of alcohol across all of its sites to four mid-strength drinks in a 24-hour period, similar to measures introduced by BHP and Rio Tinto this year.

Rio iron ore boss Simon Trott told the inquiry it had started a leadership program to improve inclusivity in its culture and was strengthening preventative strategies including bystander training and encouraging people to report unacceptable behaviour.

"We are committed to changing the culture of our organisation to make safety and respect the lived reality for our people," he said.

The mining companies jointly said they would set up education programmes in schools and training centres in the state aimed at preventing sexual harassment, racism and bullying.

BHP iron ore boss Brandon Craig said earlier this month it was investing A$300 million to improving the safety and security of its facilities. BHP has fired 48 workers in two years for incidents related to sexual harassment, it said in its submission.

Owen Whittle, a spokesperson for UnionsWA, which represents 30 workers groups, said the unions welcomed the commitments to improve facilities and security. It wants to see these changes taken up by contractors who employ much of the remote mine workforce.

"While there has been some preliminary announcements, we are yet to see a real turn in the culture and that is not done overnight, that's a long term commitment," Whittle told Reuters.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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