ETU calls for mandatory female toilets across Aussie worksites

Friday, 27 August, 2021

The Electrical Trades Union’s ‘Nowhere To Go’ report found that women make up 2% of the electrical industry nationally, and 2% of the ETU’s 61,000-strong membership. The report outlines the obstacles that women face within the industry and makes a number of recommendations on how to increase female participation. This includes legislating minimum requirements for workplace amenities, which ensure they are regularly serviced, accessible and suitable. The report also calls for the industry to ensure women are included in advisory groups and/or reference committees to determine priorities and assess progress in improving education and compliance within male-dominated occupational industries. The report also recommended establishing a singular point of contact for all employees to report gendered safety issues, and implementing female apprentice meetings and mentorship programs.

Following the release of the report, the ETU has launched a campaign to boost the number of women in male-dominated occupational industries, calling for women’s amenities to be mandatory on worksites across Australia. ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks stressed that ensuring workplace amenities and workplace toilets are available and suitable should be a minimum requirement of every workplace, but acknowledged that this is often not the case. Hicks added that the challenge is particularly stark for women in historically male-dominated occupations, as women’s amenities are treated as an inconvenience, improperly or irregularly serviced, or not provided at all. “This has forced women to take drastic action, risking their own health, safety and hygiene through practices like drinking less water or deliberately delaying their menstrual cycles. Further, women face major barriers when attempting to address these issues, through the prevailing stereotypes and myths about women in male-dominated workplaces,” Hicks said.

This can contribute to workplace cultures that are non-inclusive and historically masculine with a tolerance of inappropriate behaviours including bullying, aggression and the objectification of women. Hicks noted that these same industries face a skilled worker shortage and rely on migrant workers to fill the gap. “Instead of relying on overseas workers, we should be boosting the workforce participation of women, who make up 50 per cent of our population. Research has shown time and time again that one way for us to increase participation is to provide amenities and make sure women aren’t left with nowhere to go,” Hicks said.

Electrical Trades Union member ‘Marie’ said the single biggest issue she has faced in four years on construction sites is that every single construction site caters only to men. “The first thing I would do when arriving on site is try and find a toilet and make sure it is not down a dark alley or in a position where the girls would not be safe. We have our personal safety to take care of as well,” Marie said. The ‘Nowhere To Go’ report has called for the creation of regulations and prescribed codes of practice which take account of the different risks and hazards presented by different industries; the codes of practice must also address the differences in amenities uses and access needs for both men and women. Furthermore, the report has urged regulators to develop checklists as guidance for establishing adequate workplace amenities or when performing workplace inspections or audits for the provision of adequate amenities. These guides could be used by entry permit holders, inspectors, workplace delegates, health and safety representatives, safety managers and human resources representatives.

The ‘Nowhere To Go’ report also calls for regulators to consult with industry stakeholders when identifying annual priorities for education, compliance and enforcement, to develop targeted campaigns that address improvements to workplace amenities, with a focus on men’s and women’s amenities. The report also called for personal protective equipment to be pre-stocked or reimbursed, and appropriate for the needs of men and women. Consideration should also be given to how employers are required to make safety equipment available which may include hand wash, sanitiser and sanitary items.

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