Thu. May 19th, 2022

They called them “doorknobs”.

When male workers would approach women in the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) camp, in their portable bedroom after dark.

“I did not know how they knew where my room was,” said Liz Jelley, a former FIFO employee employed on the construction of the 2013 Queensland Curtis LNG gas pipeline.

Her room was buried among the dongas – the temporary demountable buildings on the site.

“You feel like … it’s your place where you can lock yourself in and be safe.

Jelley was employed by McConnell Dowell, who was contracted to build the pipeline as part of a joint venture known as MCJV, for the Queensland Gas Company (QCG).

She said she was called a “silly little bitch” by a leader, and a “place screw” by a member of the QCG – and daily treated derogatory comments.

“Even just things like, you know, leave my computer to get a cup of coffee and come back and someone’s uploaded porn on my screen … which they think is funny, you know.”

In 2013, two male workers on the project were fired for sexual harassment.

After the “pre-start” meeting in the morning, the female workers were pulled aside for a briefing with a female representative from the construction company.

ABC has independently obtained a footage from the briefing in which women were told that they could prevent sexual harassment if they dressed less “provocatively”.

A woman in a hard hat, sunglasses and a light yellow collar shirt leans against a large tube holding a clipboard.
A representative of the MCJV company pulled Ms Jelley and others aside to tell that male colleagues had complained that the female workers were “dressing very provocatively”.(

Delivered

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In it, the representative reminds the female workers that the dismissal is a “huge thing” for the men involved.

She goes on to tell the women that the men have complained that the female workers “dress very provocatively” on the spot.

The female workers are told to avoid tight jeans and short shorts.

“Unfortunately, in their minds, and that’s probably a lack of education on their behalf, they think the girls are asking for it,” she tells the female workers.

“So how can we do it better? The management thinks the way to do it is for the girls to dress more conservatively.”

“We’ve already had two incidents … we need to be a little more proactive about that,” said the company representative.

Ms. Jelley was among the women who received the directive from management, which ABC understands was delivered across several pages on the project.

“It was certainly the feeling that it was our responsibility not to be assaulted,” she said.

“It was our responsibility to make sure these men were not provoked by our clothes. The feeling on the spot was that these poor men had lost their jobs; these poor, really good men, you know, they worked really hard, blah blah blah. , “Said Jelley.

“It did not matter that they had done this … it was these poor men and these ugly women who, you know, had driven them for this purpose.”

“We were really just staring at each other as if it was real? Is it really happening?”

Claims’ contrary to company values

In a statement, McConnell Dowell said there had been “significant changes in management staff” since then and the company “strongly believes in treating all employees inclusively with respect and dignity”.

The company confirmed that the management directive was neither reasonable nor in line with its safety obligations in the workplace.

The Queensland Gas Company changed ownership in 2016 when it was acquired by Shell.

A spokesman for Shell said it had a “zero-tolerance approach to harassment of any kind” and “our core values ​​of honesty, integrity and respect underpin the work we do”.

Evidence of widespread underreporting, lack of support

Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says some of the most devastating experiences of sexual harassment she has heard have been from women in rural, regional and remote settings, and the risk increases with geographical isolation.

“But I also heard even when people asked for help, that their peers, their friends, their family would reject or justify or belittle what had happened to them.

“So they were not only affected in their workplace, but in their community, they felt a lack of support.”

She said there were signs of widespread underreporting across the country, but found that “cultural and social dimensions” in non-metropolitan areas made it harder for women to emerge.

Jenkins said women who were harassed often ended up “leaving jobs, the loved ones, the careers, the loved ones, the places they wanted to live in”.

“Those are all the reasons why it’s even harder for people in these regions to say no,” she said.

In its 2020 report on respect for the workplace, Jenkins’ governments recommended “providing increased and recurring funding to the Working Women’s Centers” – a nonprofit workplace support service for men and women.

The NT Working Women’s Center is one of only two left in the country. The support service was set up decades ago, but two others in NSW and Tasmania have been closed for the past 15 years, and a third in Queensland have merged with another service to survive.

The director of the NT service, Nicki Petrou, says her service has had hundreds of approaches from women dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace over the past twelve months – mostly from regional and rural areas.

A woman in a purple dress stands in a power bag and stares down at the camera
Nicki Petrou says she is “surprised” that the NT service has not received funding from the federal government.(

ABC News: Che Chorley

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“So to cope with that, you have to give proper support,” Petrou said. “It’s often very intense. It’s not a quick cross and flick response. You have to do it properly. And it can take some time. And it requires a real commitment.

“And that’s what my staff does.”

But she said that despite repeated approaches to the federal government, funding for the service should run out in December.

“We were the finished deal,” she said. “We would have been easy to ‘throw money at an existing service that was already doing the work on site that effectively meets the goals of the federal government.’ But no, that did not happen to the astonishment of so many people, not just me.”

Workplaces should not assume that no reports mean there is no harassment

Ms Petrou said she received a letter from Federal Attorney General Michaelia Cash on the eve of the National Women’s Security Summit in September, urging her to apply for funds that had been made available for legal services.

“Newsflash is that we are not a legal service, so how would we go about applying for funds that are clearly designated for legal services?” she said.

“So I’m worried about that service not coming to women, almost 30 years and nothing.”

ABC contacted Senator Cash to ask why the Working Women’s Center had not been funded in accordance with the Gender Discrimination Commissioner’s recommendation.

We did not receive a response.

The federal opposition has promised to provide $ 24 million in support of the support service nationally and work with territories to establish services where there are none.

Six-Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has called on regional and rural workplaces to understand that they have a legal obligation to protect employees from harassment.

“I would urge them to shift their focus not to assume there is no sexual harassment unless someone complains,” she said.

“But to start acting now to talk to their workforce to make sure that safe and respectful jobs are there.”

Liz Jelley said she hoped to see women “flood the workplace” in the construction and FIFO industries.

“Women on the sites bring in exactly the same thing as men do,” she said.

“I was really good at my job. I sometimes worked 18 hours a day.”

“And I also think we’re bringing a great balance to what you know … another set of skills.”

“It just, it’s a workplace, it should not be male dominated.”

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