Most of us would have a mate who have gone off to work in the mines.
It’s a fast way to get great money (like, really great money), and the challenging conditions are offset by large chunks of time off in between. But how many of these miners you know are female?
It’s these two factors – great pay, and even time roster – that is attracting an increasing number of Aussie women to the mining industry. Young singles, married couples, mothers with children: ladies from every walk of life are lining up to score a place in one of our country’s most lucrative industries.
But according to a recent study by the Australia-International Institute of Workplace Training, the conditions for females in the Aussie mines are far more difficult than they may have bargained for.
“Women have to work harder to be recognised, to gain promotions, as there were so few or none of them around. The application of the glass ceiling is still relevant to these women and there is a need to break through.”
Another article on the report noted that women who want to rise to the senior ranks in WA’s mining industry needed, “self-confidence, and should be prepared to fight “discrimination and hostility.”
Yikes. Pretty grim outlook.
But the bleak picture these comments made seem to be undermining (no pun intended) an industry that is making leaps and bounds in welcoming women into its workforce.
So I interviewed a 27 year old woman, Rachel*, who works in an open-cut coal mine.
For privacy reasons her location is concealed, but we can tell you that by all accounts, her life seems pretty darn normal. She lives a 2.5 hr drive from the mine with her partner (also a miner), and their baby girl. They met in a coal mine and lived a few doors up from each other in their donger (I’ll explain what that is in a minute), and he works whilst she’s on maternity leave.
But aside from this apparent normality, I really wanted to know what the conditions are actually like for women out in the mines. Were they safe? Did she like it? What do women do?
The food is crap, the housing is crap, but it’s not unbearable.
All mining staff live in what’s called a ‘donger’ – long rows of housing with tin roofs, squared around a common cooking and social area. Rachel said,”Conditions for a woman on a mine site are the same as they are for men, as are expectations. If you do what is expected of you and do it without complaint you won’t run into any problems.”
The accommodation is not separated between the men and women, with Rachel noting that she was the only female in her ‘pod’ for over 2 years. She describes the rooms:
“The rooms are a king single bed, a bedside table, a big cupboard with a lock so you can leave your stuff there on days off, a desk, a chair, a bar fridge, a split system and a little bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink. All lino floors and white insulated walls…like big, furnished fridges.”
Yes, the work is hard.
Second to the living conditions, my next big query was about the work: did it involve much physical action? Did she struggle?
Rachel, a slim lady of average height (read: not of UFC fighter physique) drove massive trucks, some of which required a level of physical pulling and pushing. She reckons women on site do anything and everything, from driving 400 tonne dump trucks, to firing shots, blowing up rock, and the senior site executive.
Yes, it can be dangerous.
I mean, c’mon folks. You’re driving trucks the size of buildings around a big old hole in the earth. Rachel stressed that the safety processes are extensive, but on some sites women are limited when operating bull dozers to the rubber tyre variety. “If women want to drive them, they have to sign a detailed waiver to operate a track dozer as there have been studies linking the harsh jolting the rattling to reproductive problems.”