Over half of Inuit women in mining experienced incidents of violence, sexual harassment: Report

·4 min read
Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said she is willing to work with mines to improve their harassment policies and create safer working environments.  (Eye on the Arctic - image credit)
Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said she is willing to work with mines to improve their harassment policies and create safer working environments. (Eye on the Arctic - image credit)

A national Inuit women's organization has released a study on the experience of Inuit women in the mining industry based on the surveys of 29 workers.

In the report by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the surveys show that more than half of the participants experienced repeated incidents of sexual harassment and violence on the job.

According to the report — Addressing Inuit Women's Economic Security and Prosperity in the Resource Extraction Industry — the most common form of harassment women experience is unwanted sexual jokes, comments, touching and emotional and physical abuse.

"This survey shows that women are not feeling safe sometimes working at the mine," said Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit.

"Maybe not getting the support that they need … sometimes women will quit rather than deal with what they have to deal with by reporting."

The women surveyed are current and former employees of the mining industry from Baker Lake and Arviat, Nunavut, along with Salluit and Nunakvik in Northern Quebec and Inuvik, N.W.T.

The surveys used open and closed questions created by Firelight Research Inc. and trained Pauktuutit staff on digital survey delivery and data collection.

More than half of the women who answered the survey had been working in the industry for up to three years while some had more than 10 years experience.

Repeated incidents of sexual harassment, violence

Of the women who answered the questions, 45 per cent said they had never experienced sexual violence or harassment. But the women who did said their harassment was intense and that they had to deal with it on a regular basis.

Most women did not hold the same positions as their harassers and were often the victims of men they didn't know, according to the report.

The report says that several women did not report the harassment they experienced to their employer out of fear, embarrassment, or because management seemed unapproachable or there was no one to go to.

Other women who did report incidents had varied reactions from their employers such as offenders losing their jobs or no action taken at all.

Recommendations from the report say there should be more women in human resource and management positions to go to when harassment occurs and have specific company policies and procedures to respond to incidents.

"If their policies are not understood by the staff then it is not going to work," said Kudloo.

An excavator transfers high grade stockpiled minerals into a hauling truck at Agnico Eagle's Amaruq mine site in Nunavut, in July 2019.
An excavator transfers high grade stockpiled minerals into a hauling truck at Agnico Eagle's Amaruq mine site in Nunavut, in July 2019.(Cole Burston/Bloomberg)

Mines say there is zero-tolerance for harassment

Agnico Eagle says that eight per cent of their Nunavut workforce is Inuit women.

A spokesperson from the company said Agnico Eagle has a zero-tolerance policy in place on violence, harassment and sexual harassment. It also has a four-hour training for all employees on bullying, harassment, discrimination and how to recognize and respond to them.

The spokesperson said 3,306 employees in Nunavut have taken the training.

Both Baffinland and Glencore Canada sent statements to CBC saying they have zero-tolerance policies on harassment.

Inuit women supporting large households on low income

According to the report, most women feel safe working at the mine but that feeling safety can vary throughout the day depending on the situation. One woman wrote in the survey that she felt safe while on shift but unsafe after hours while off duty.

A third of the women who responded to the survey said they were providing financial support between four to six people in their household back home.

The most common jobs for Inuit women in mining are lower level positions that earned salaries of $60,000 or less.

"A lot of women working at those lower level positions are supporting their children and sometimes extend family members," said Kudloo. "So they need to be in a safe place to work and be happy where their workplace is making money for their families and for themselves."

Kudloo says Pauktuutit will work with any mine on their harassment policies.

She has already spoken to the Meadowbank mine, part of Agnico Eagle Mines, who reached out about the report.

"We have been looking at this for a long time and things have to improve," said Kudloo.

"If people are happy working in these places, the resource extraction industry, then it is good for our people and their companies so we need to work together."