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Mining giant charged over sexual harassment failure

Mining giant Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has been charged over its failure to supply documents relating to dozens of cases of alleged workplace sexual harassment.

FMG, chaired by billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, is alleged to have refused or failed to provide documentation to the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) regulator WorkSafe without a reasonable excuse on 34 occasions.

The alleged sexual harassment took place at three FMG mines – Christmas Creek, Solomon and Cloudbreak – in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Details of when the incidents occurred or how many alleged offenders and victims were involved have not been released.

The case is due to be heard in the Perth Magistrates Court on 17 March. If charged on all counts, FMG faces a cumulative penalty of up to $1.87 million.

A FMG spokesperson claimed the company was committed to providing safe and respectful workplaces and would cooperate with WorkSafe.

Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) Acting General Secretary Jacqueline King said sexual harassment cannot be eliminated unless employers get serious on their obligations to protect workers.

“The rates of sexual harassment experienced by workers are staggering – impacting two in five women and one in four men in the last five years,” Ms King said.

“How on Earth can we end the scourge of sexual harassment at work when employers seemingly find it too hard to even supply documentation to the regulator?”

Ms King said the recent legislation of all 55 Respect@Work Report recommendations had well and truly put employers on notice.

“The passing of the Respect@Work laws last year was a gamechanger in terms of how we protect workers from sexual harassment.

“The ‘positive duty’ contained in that legislation means employers are obligated to do everything they can to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs – although we are in a 12-month transition period before that duty becomes fully enforceable.”

“It’s clear that some employers have a long way to go in realising their positive duty.”

Ms King said the FMG case also highlighted the importance of workers using their legal rights to hold employers to account.

“Workers have strong legal rights to call out and seek action on sexual harassment at work,” Ms King said.

“By joining together in their unions workers have a real opportunity to stamp out sexual harassment – and frankly to force complacent employers to take action.”