Women working on construction sites say they often have to plead with their employers to get them to put in a female toilet.
The Electrical Trades Union wants toilets designed for women to be mandatory on worksites
Just 2 per cent of Australia’s electricians are women
Electrician Vashti Arndt has often worked on sites without female toilets
A report released today by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) links a lack of women’s facilities with the incredibly small number of women in the trade — women make up just 2 per cent of Australia’s electricians.
“I’ve been on multiple sites where I’ve been the first woman they’ve ever worked with,” Brisbane-based electrician Vashti Arndt says.
The 25-year-old finished her apprenticeship last year.
But she says it usually becomes blatantly obvious that a worksite isn’t set up for women when she tries to find a toilet.
“I definitely have been on sites where there’s only one portable toilet and there’s no sanitary bin in that, so you have to find the closest skip and do like a real awkward sort of walk to the bin and hope no-one notices you’ve got a handful of tampon.”
On sites where a women’s toilet is available, it’s often hundreds of metres away.
“Someone complained about me not being on site because I would go to the toilet and be gone for a 20-minute circuit, essentially.”
It’s not just the toilets
Ms Arndt says while toilets are an accessibility issue, she has experienced other discrimination as a woman in the trade.
She was once knocked back for a job because the male employer assumed she wouldn’t cope with working under a hot roof.
And she has also been the victim of sexist slurs at work.
“I used to wear a pink hard hat and some dude wrote on the wall, ‘pinky’s moist c***’.
“What do you do though? Someone covers it over but it doesn’t stop that culture.”
Culture change on worksites
The ETU has launched the Nowhere to Go campaign to lobby regulators to make toilets for women mandatory and more accessible, as well as fitting them with soap and sanitary bins.
The union’s assistant secretary Michael Wright says it’s time for the culture in the industry to change.
“In a lot of respects areas of our industry are still stuck in the 1950s when it comes to women,” he says.
“We hear again and again from the women in our industries that they don’t want to go to the toilet because even if there is a toilet on site it’s 15 minutes’ walk away, whereas the men’s is just on the same level.
“So every time they go to the toilet they’re off the job for 30 minutes, which then means they get treated as being unreliable because they’re never there.
“A lot of employers are wanting to do the right thing but they don’t know how, and there’s no guidance from health and safety regulators in this respect.”
While he admits fixing toilets won’t fix everything, he says it will at least be a step towards making a tangible difference to an industry that could use more women in its ranks.
“We’re already seeing calls to bring in 30,000 temporary skilled migrants into the resource sector, and it’s stark that it’s seen as cheaper to fly in 30,000 men than making workplaces somewhere women actually want to work.”
Despite the challenges, Ms Arndt would like to see more women working alongside her.
“I’d encourage women into it,” she says.
“But if a girl’s going to put up with the crap that she has to put up with to become a tradie, she’s going to have to be slightly passionate about it.
“That’s for sure.”