Celebrating International Women’s Day 2022
Working Women Speak Out
Nadine Joncas, Quebec, Mining
Nadine Joncas is a Prevention Representative for USW Local 5778 in Fermont on Quebec’s North Shore
I am the union local’s prevention representative for the workers at ArcelorMittal’s Mont-Wright and Fire Lake mines.
A big concern for women working in the mines is that we’re still having difficulty obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) adapted for women. More and more of us are employed in jobs that were traditionally reserved for men and it’s still a challenge getting adequate equipment, such as safety gloves and boots and proper clothing. Women need to have clothing in conformity with women’s sizes. PPE must fit properly and not be cumbersome for women to work in. In 2022, this remains a challenge.
Women have managed to take their place in our sector, to be accepted in the trades, as welders, electricians, mechanics, truck drivers. The president of my union local is a woman. Two of us on the union are women. We’ve made advances, in the sense that now in our workplace hiring takes place on the basis of your skills, whether you’re a man or a woman. There are more and more women in our sector but there are still challenges. Attracting people is a problem everywhere, and here it’s harder because we’re in Fermont, a remote area.
In terms of general concerns which affect both men and women, there’s the issue of new technologies, automation, new safety systems that can be installed on equipment, which means that we’re risk-managing rather than eliminating the danger at its source. In my sector of activity, we’re leaning more and more towards risk management and this is of serious concern to us.
For example, there’s the issue of front tire sensors. The sensor detects the level of heat in the tire and whether there’s a risk of explosion. A tire blowout can be a serious hazard. We pay attention to that when getting on or off the truck. Now that there are sensors in the tires the employer would like to streamline the procedure regarding a change in truck drivers and is intent on taking steps in that direction.
During meal breaks, for example, the truck is not left idle. It must continue its route. At present, before a change of drivers takes place, the truck must be unloaded of its ore. You cannot change drivers while there’s ore in the box. A change in the procedure, changing the driver while the truck is loaded, would mean managing the risk instead of eliminating the danger. That’s why we’re concerned about technological change and why we’re monitoring the situation closely. As a safety representative, these are the kinds of concerns that workers bring to me all the time.
We need to take the time to look at this because there’s no room for improvisation when it comes to health and safety. Workers must absolutely be involved in the decisions and the analyses.
Another concern is the changes to the occupational health and safety regime passed last fall, which were supposed to be a modernization of the system. We have to be very vigilant, because we’re already beginning to experience the various changes that have been made. We’re seeing this, in particular, from the point of view of workers’ claims, with workers who, unfortunately, have been injured or are suffering from occupational diseases. We’re already seeing workers being brought back to work more quickly than before, etc. We have to be vigilant so that we can protect our members. The prevention component of the changes will be coming into effect later. We need to continue advocating against these changes even though the legislation has been passed.
(Workers’ Forum, posted March 11, 2022)