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In March, we celebrate International Women’s Day. March 8 is an important day to recognise the progress and achievements of women in society and in the male-dominated mining industry. But despite the flurry of Awards and events celebrating women, mining companies must lift their game offering the support women need to thrive in the industry.

Mining has long been Australia’s most male-dominated industry, but numbers of women are growing. Data from Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that about 20% of employees in the coal mining industry overall are women, and about 16% of machinery operators and drivers. 

It is a positive development that more women are getting opportunities to access the skilled and well-paying jobs the mining industry has to offer. It has certainly been a positive development for our Union to have more women joining us and stepping up into leadership roles including Delegate, safety rep, Lodge executive, District Board and Central Council positions.

Our District has recently employed two new female organisers with decades of industry experience who will soon be out in NSW mines talking to workers about the issues affecting them.

But while we have many proud and capable women mineworkers in our industry, it can be a tough place for them. It is frustrating when mining companies capable of digging up and transporting millions of tonnes of coal per year, can’t provide adequate toilet facilities for women on site or make women feel guilty for using them. 

It is deeply unfair when the same mining companies that promote female employment then fail to support women when they become pregnant, require alternative duties or a degree of flexibility as they return to work from parental leave.

It is shameful that many mining companies have concentrated their employment of women in labour hire companies, meaning female mineworkers have all too often simply lost their jobs rather than being able to access rights when they become pregnant.

And women are too often subject to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in our mine sites. Employers must ensure that standards of behaviour are made clear; and our Union also takes seriously our role in promoting respectful behaviour and attitudes to women in the workplace.

This International Women’s Day, we urge all employers in the industry to look closely at their support for women and what more they can do to ensure mine sites are safe, respectful and inclusive for women workers.

And we encourage all women in the industry to join the Union to boost women’s collective voice, ensure your needs are reflected in our bargaining claims and workplace campaigns, and support you to access new rights from workplace law reform.

Although International Women’s Day has taken on a corporate flavour, its origins are in women garment workers protesting against poor working conditions over a century ago. Now, as then, it is only through that standing together and advocating for change that women workers have improved their position in the workplace.

And before anyone raises it – yes there’s an International Men’s Day too. It’s on 19 November and I encourage men to get involved then or at any time of year to talk about the important issues affecting men, like mental health and wellbeing. Supporting or seeking support from Mates in Mining is a great place to start.

Robin Williams

District President MEU Northern Mining and NSW Energy

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