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Meet the Pilbara’s newest WMWA organiser

March 5, 2020

Yola Bakker is a woman on a mission.

As the new Western Mine Workers Alliance organiser and campaigner in the Pilbara she’s determined to grow and empower members.

But as the first woman to ever take on this role, she’s also approaching it with a difference. She’s got a bigger picture in mind that includes tackling diversity, improving flexible working arrangements for working mothers and addressing mental health and domestic violence issues openly and frankly through creative means.

Yola said: “Due to the fact we all live in a mining town, I’m able to reach workers and connect with them on a range of different levels, away from their mine sites and crib rooms. It’s about creating a space where people feel safe and have capacity to reflect on the environment in which they’re working, so they are then in a better head space to in fact be open, and receive the information and resources on offer to them via the union. I personally believe this approach is far more conducive to changing or shifting perspectives – regardless of what side of the fence you sit.

“People assume that they are doing OK because workers and residents in the Pilbara have the highest earning GDP shire in the country. But there are a lot of complex issues and attitudes here.”

Yola says we have to do far better at connecting with young workers who are lured by the prospect of $100k plus jobs.

“What we are seeing in the Pilbara is a real difference between the ‘old school workers’ and the ‘new school workers’. The more experienced guys are much more likely to inform us about health and safety issues, but for the young guys, for whom this might be their first job, it’s a different issue.

“They are too scared to speak us, because not only are they afraid of losing a job that is paying a huge amount more than most first-time jobs, they can also lose their housing too. That’s a big threat over their head even if it’s not justified.”

Yola is also committed to working with the big mine companies to improve the lot for working women with children. In Tom Price, there is just one childcare centre for 45 kids – with a two year waiting list – making it very difficult for women wanting to work at the mines, and for families who relocated here with no understanding that child care is essentially inaccessible.

“We need to explore better options for flexible working arrangements and show the benefits to BHP and Rio. It makes much more sense to employ people already in the town, who already may have experience, than to bring new people in, train them up and pay for their homes. Job sharing really could be the answer here.”

Around 35-40% of the workforce in the mining industry is women. That’s the good news – the less positive news is that many of these roles are in HR and administration, says Yola, another issue she is keen on addressing.

The issues of isolation and closed off communities also take up a lot of Yola’s time both in her Alliance role and off-duty, where she works with a lot of other agencies across mental health and aboriginal affairs.

“Domestic violence rates here are high and people are always surprised is that 50% of the rates are from mine workers, and the other 50% in Aboriginal communities. This is reflective of a concerning attitude. Issues relating to alcohol and substance abuse are also high and so conversations with service providers is critical.”

The WMWA in collaboration with The Nintirri Centre, The Tom Price Youth Support Association, RRR Network, are hosting a high tea on International Women’s Day 8th March where Yola will be reciting some relevant pieces.

To find out more about the alliance head to the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WesternMineWorkersAlliance/

 

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