OPINION: Women mineworkers backed by Canberra reforms

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When we look around at the faces at our worksites today, it looks different than a few decades ago – and that is a good thing. More women are entering the mining industry, and our Union proudly supports the positive and necessary changes to allow for their full participation in traditionally male-dominated workplaces.

Unfortunately, some mining companies employ women without providing them with safe and supportive workplaces. For example, some operations that are able to move thousands of tonnes of coal and dirt seem unable to provide their workers with accessible and hygienic toilet facilities, which is a disgrace. Sexual harassment is also a blight on the industry. 

Now, legislative change underway in Canberra will have positive impacts for the growing numbers of women in our industry.

In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about the ‘industrial relations reforms’ being introduced by the Albanese Government. Same Job Same Pay has been our Union’s key focus, to address misuse of labour hire to drive down wages. These laws are currently being drafted.

Meanwhile, there have been other welcome and important changes designed to remove barriers to women’s full participation in the workforce. We look forward to assisting our members to access these new rights and benefits.

Sexual harassment

Recent changes put more onus on employers to prevent sexual harassment from occurring and make it easier for affected workers to take legal action.

The Sex Discrimination Act now includes a positive duty on employers to eliminate sexual harassment. It means that mining companies must now take all reasonable steps to prevent workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation from occurring, not just wait until it happens.

Also, sexual harassment of workers and prospective workers is now prohibited in the Fair Work Act, meaning the Fair Work Commission can handle sexual harassment disputes and grant remedies. Applications can be made to the Fair Work Commission for a Stop Sexual Harassment Order to prevent future harassment or to grant compensation to remedy past harm.

Many workers suffer sexual harassment without making a complaint because they don’t trust existing processes. These legal changes make it easier, and for union members, our team is available to assist you through the process.

Pay transparency

The Government has banned pay secrecy clauses, meaning employers cannot prevent staff from discussing salaries. While workers employed on Enterprise Agreements have a level of transparency over their pay, the changes mean people can’t be prevented from talking about bonuses, terms of individual contracts or other pay measures. Pay secrecy clauses contribute to the gender pay gap.

Family and domestic violence leave

All workers are now entitled to ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave per year as part of the National Employment Standards. This paid leave can be taken by those experiencing domestic violence including coercive control. It is paid at the full rate of pay and available to casuals. The employee does not need to be leaving the relationship and the leave can be used for medical appointments, counselling, court dates, or time off to make safety arrangements including relocation. Employers are prohibited from putting information about FDV leave on their payslips. While this can be a sensitive topic, the union is here to support members who wish to access this potentially life-saving entitlement.


Workers now have more rights to request flexible working to accommodate caring or other responsibilities and there is now more onus on employers to genuinely consider each request. Employers must prove they have reasonable business grounds to refuse a request for flexibility and discuss alternative arrangements. The Fair Work Commission has the power to make orders granting flexibility arrangements.

As more women enter the mining industry, more women are also joining our union. We cover permanent employees and contractors and we encourage all women to consider joining, to receive expert legal and workplace support and work together for safer, fairer workplaces.

Robin Williams

District President MEU Northern Mining and NSW Energy

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