GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, N.L.
The expansion of the Grand Falls-Windsor wastewater treatment facility has a set goal — to create construction opportunities for women.
The directive was passed down to the central Newfoundland town by the Environmental Assessment Division of the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, who recently signed off on the $10-million upgrade, on the condition the town develop a Women’s Employment Plan for the construction phase of the project.
It was welcomed news for Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, who spoke with The Central Voice Dec. 6.
Historically, she said, it has been extremely hard for women to break into male-dominated workforce positions, such as construction. And by having measures in place to promote employment, she said, it helps create equality.
“Equality, doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same,” she said. “Sometimes it’s about having measures in place to achieve equality.
“The reality is, in a lot of workplaces, especially male-dominated ones, it is really hard for the process to work automatically.”
And by having the measures in place, she said, it raises women up in positions where they can earn better salaries and creates a better economy in general.
“We support this,” she said of the women’s employment plan. “It’s a real, significant way to increase women’s participation in higher paying construction jobs.”
Furthermore, she said, it’s a building block towards a long-term solution.
When women start in what she called “non-traditional” professions, it creates a visible example in the workforce, which encourages others to get involved.
“The (measures) don’t need to be in place forever... but measures like this get the ball rolling,” she said. “And at some point, it becomes more natural to pursue careers like construction.”
Shortall doesn’t know the particular conditions of the Grand Falls-Windsor project, but feels it should be done in a positive manner.
“Any agreement that has something in there that encourages or mandates the participation of women, we have to make sure we are upping the ability of women who work in these jobs,” she said.
These types of conditions are something Shortall has been noticing more of.
“How many are there, I don’t know,” she said. “Some may be done officially, such as mandated, others may be just policies and practices, that are used with organizations.”
But if it’s used to promote equality, it’s a good thing, Shortall said.
There has been a concerted effort put forward to make it happen, with unions, governments, organizations and education systems all playing a role in pushing for this type of support, she said.
“Equality, doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same. Sometimes it’s about having measures in place to achieve equality. The reality is, in a lot of workplaces, especially male-dominated ones, it is really hard for the process to work automatically.”
-Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour
It’s a change that has been slow, but is happening.
“It’s remarkable compared to how it was,” Shortall said. “When it becomes more reflective of the work force, you won’t need provisions like (Grand Fall-Windsor),” she said. “Right now, in order to break down that barrier, you need to do it.”
There has been some pushback toward these types of initiatives, as some men might feel they are being discriminated against. But Shortall believes it’s just a misunderstanding of the situation.
“That’s not at all the case, because there are still lots of men being hired,” she said. “It’s hard for women to break into trades, but measures like this get the ball rolling.”
According to the Women’s Policy Office, these types of agreements have been in place for more than 10 years.
It is also supported through provincial government’s The Way Forward initiative.
“One manner in which government increases the number of women in trades is through employment plans, such as Women’s Employment Plans and Gender Equity and Diversity Plans,” according to a Dec. 7, statement from the Women’s Policy office.
“These plans are required to address barriers in a number of key areas including the recruitment and retention of women, as well as the participation of women-owned businesses in the supply chain.”
The statement also indicated that requiring proponents to outline proactive policies, practices, and lines of accountability aimed at creating inclusive work environments free from harassment and discrimination helps remove employment barriers women routinely face.
“We fully encourage women to become involved in whatever type of work they want to be involved in. We are certainly an equal opportunity employer here at the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, and we’ll continue to be.”
-Deputy mayor, grand Falls-Windsor Mike Browne
There are also medium-large scale measures in place, with benefit agreements in place for mining, energy, and oil and gas industries and the construction phases for these projects to develop Gender Equity and Diversity Plans.
“Gender Equity and Diversity Plans aim to improve training and employment opportunities as well as business access strategies for women across a wide range of occupations,” it was noted in the Women’s Policy Office statement.
In the case of environmental assessments, the statement reads, once the environmental assessment registration is filed, it is reviewed for a number of matters as outlined in the Environmental Protection Act.
“If it is determined that the project has a significant impact on employment, a Women’s Employment Plan will be required to be put in place,” it was indicated.
Support in GFW
According to Deputy Mayor Mike Browne, the expansion is a three-year project.
It will see the construction of a new wastewater lagoon(s), along with an ultraviolet treatment plant.
Tenders will go out in the spring of 2019, with construction expected to take place this summer.
The project, funded by municipal, provincial and federal governments, will see Grand Falls-Windsor put forward $3 million of its own tax dollars. This, Browne said, is to align the town with federal wastewater regulations.
At the time of the interview, Dec. 6, Browne said the town was notified of the women’s employment plan condition only two weeks prior, and it will comply. How the plan will look is not yet known.
“That (work) should start before the tender comes out in the spring of 2019,” Browne said, adding it will be carried out by the town’s consultant, SNC-Lavalin, which is doing the design work.
But it’s something he supports.
“We fully encourage women to become involved in whatever type of work they want to be involved in,” Browne said. “We are certainly an equal opportunity employer here at the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, and we’ll continue to be.”