#WomenSpeak: Gender-based violence is an occupational hazard

My name is Teena Simpson. I am a builder labourer in Melbourne, Australia. I have been working in Construction for 18 eighteen years and I am an active rank and file member of the CFMEU – Construction Division. I am also the on-site designated first aider, COVID-19 Marshall and deputy union delegate. 

I grew up in a working-class suburb of Melbourne. My family mainly worked on the wharves - Maritime Industries. All my family and friends worked in blue collar industries which meant growing up around union talk and activity is unavoidable. 

My fondest memories as a young girl was listening to and participating in family discussions around the dinner table about issues that are affecting the everyday lives of the people that I lived with and those who lived in my community. The issues aren’t dissimilar to the struggles that workers continue to fight for – issues of unemployment, the right to healthy and safe workplaces, the right to decent wages and conditions, equality, and the right for unions to organise. 

I am fortunate to be employed by a commercial builder in a full-time capacity. However, this is not the case for many women construction workers.   Women in construction face many challenges such as fewer job opportunities, casualisation, unskilled work, rigid hours of work, caring responsibilities, gender discrimination etc. These issues aren’t different to the challenges women workers face across industries and countries. I see all these issues as union issues. Together, with our unions, we must rise to the challenge of gender equality for all workers through our industrial and workplace agreements.


Currently, we are all experiencing a time of significant upheaval – a movement that is calling for equality in all areas of our lives. From our homes, to our communities, workplaces and our justice system, unions can and must play a role to build a just and equal society. 

I hope that my role as a woman construction worker will inspire young girls/ women to become active members of their unions. Collectively, we can be part of the solution. Working with our unions, government and employers, we can and must find ways for women to be equal.  Education and workplace trainings are essential. They are no different from an employer’s responsibility to provide healthy and safe workplaces. Employers must provide appropriate supervision and training to all workers on matters of workplace systems. They must do the same regarding issues of equality. Gender violence, bullying, harassment have no place in any workplace. I consider them as occupational health and safety hazards that can cause real harm to women workers. Like any other hazard, a system of elimination must be applied. This is what an equal and better future means to me. 

As a COVID-19 Marshall, my responsibility is to ensure that all workers, contractors and visitors to our woksite are safe. The COVID-19 marshalling responsibilities includes following government /site policies and procedures regarding record keeping, attendance records, temperature control of site workers, maintaining hygiene and COVID-19 sanitising of site amenities.  This role is an integral part to out recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and women are an essential part of this process in the construction industry. 

*#WomenSpeak is a monthly article on gender issues and concerns authored by BWI’s different affiliate women workers. It seeks to provide women workers more spaces and platforms to express their thoughts and concerns on a variety of issues that are important to them as workers and most especially, as women.