‘Wouldn’t dare come out’: LGBTIQ workers reveal bullying at Rio Tinto


rio tinto pilbara hat stock photo western australia fifo mine
Image: Rio Tinto/Supplied

LGBTIQ+ employees at mining giant Rio Tinto report higher rates of bullying and harassment at work, a major review of the company has found.

The company commissioned the independent review, overseen by Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

The mining giant operates in 35 countries and employs 45,000 people. Over 10,000 employees were involved in the review.

In Australia, the company has 16 mines in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Rio Tinto also operates in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

And in her report, Broderick described bullying at the company as “systemic”.

Almost half of all employees reported they’d been bullied at work and described a “culture of silence” around bullying and harassment.

Women are more likely to experience bullying than men, the review found.

Additionally, LGBTIQ employees reported “elevated rates of bullying, sexual harassment, and racism” in workplaces.

‘I was bullied over and over again’

According to surveys and interviews, LGBTIQ+ employees experience higher rates of bullying (56%), sexual harassment (19%) and racism (17%) than those who do not identify as LGBTIQ+ (47%, 11%, and 11% respectively).

Additionally, employees who “prefer not to say” if they identify as LGBTIQ+ also experience significantly elevated rates of bullying, sexual harassment and racism.

One anonymous employee is quoted as saying, “The corporate environment is generally accepting of gay men, but it’s a totally different story on the mine sites.”

A gay man said he “made myself more masculine while at work” in line with the “unhealthy masculine energy” on site.

A queer female employee said, “I was bullied over and over again, ‘You look like a boy’. It made it so much harder to come out.”

One lesbian employee explained she was “often treated as one of the guys” on site.

“They share their fantasies with you and are not afraid to make vulgar comments in front of you. Heaps of comments that “you just haven’t met the right guy” and instances of men wanting to come back to your room,” the woman said.

She added that she “didn’t feel unsafe though” but described the behaviour as “just frustrating.”

Another worker said, “I wouldn’t dare come out here. I know I’d get bullied and teased, maybe even physically harmed. I just don’t trust these guys.”

Another explained, “It’s hard to speak up against jokes because I’m not senior, I’m a person of colour and gay. Way too many barriers.”

In the report, Elizabeth Broderick explained, “Overall, [employee’s] comments suggest that the same hyper-masculine norms and culture that can fuel everyday sexism and sexual harassment can also fuel heterosexism, making the inclusion and safety of employees who identify as [LGBTIQA+] a priority in any cultural reform.”

Sexual harassment and racism at Rio Tinto worksites

Over a quarter of women in the company had experienced sexual harassment, along with nearly half of women at FIFO worksites.

They also spoke of the lack of consequences when they reported these incidents, Broderick explained.

Twenty-one women have reported an actual or attempted rape or sexual assault in the last five years.

Racism was also a “significant challenge” for employees at Rio Tinto worksites. Nearly 40 per cent of Australian men who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander had experienced racism.

“I have copped racism in every single corner of this company,” one employee was quoted as saying.

The review recommended 26 changes to Rio Tinto’s workplace culture to improve safety for marginalised employees.

Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm apologised to all employees impacted by the “deeply disturbing” behaviour.

“I offer my heartfelt apology to every team member, past or present, who’s suffered as a result of these behaviours,” he said.

“This is not the kind of company we want to be.

“I am determined that by implementing appropriate actions to address the recommendations.

“[With] the management team’s commitment to a safe, respectful, and inclusive Rio Tinto in all areas, we will make positive and lasting change, and strengthen our workplace culture for the long term.”

Working in mining is ‘an isolating experience’

UnionsWA secretary Owen Whittle said the company had “clearly failed” workers over a long period of time and needed to do more to ensure the safety of resources sector workers.

Reacting to the report, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan called on all mining companies to proactively address “poor” behaviour.

“Working in the mining industry, particularly a long way from family and friends, is an isolating experience,” he said.

“It shouldn’t be made worse by poor practices and poor behaviours.

“I’d urge every company to make sure they’re on top of these things to make sure they don’t occur.”

 

For help and information about workplace bullying, contact Discrimination Claims on 1300 853 837.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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