We want health and safety laws in this country to mandate minimum standards for workplace amenities to ensure they are regularly serviced, accessible, suitable, and open – for every worker.

The Electrical Trades Union released a report in 2021 called ‘Nowhere to Go’ about the lack of adequate bathroom amenities for workers on many work sites around Australia. 

The report exposes unsanitary, unsafe, inaccessible and unsuitable amenities faced by many workers in our industry and how this issue is disproportionately impacting women.

It also raises deeper issues of many employers’ outdated attitudes towards women and blue-collar workers in subjecting them to conditions which would never be tolerated in the white-collar world.

A national survey in 2022 of electrical workers revealed shocking statistics of access and standards of amenities in the electrical and other trades.

Workers are forced to use bathrooms that:

  • are unclean, unhygienic or rarely cleaned
  • have no running water
  • have no soap
  • have no locks on the door
  • are locked with no available key
  • have no separate female bathrooms
  • have no sanitary bins for women
  • are a 20 minute round trip away from the work site.

Often there are just no toilets at all.

Health and Safety

Women have many different needs for bathroom amenities ­– they deal with menstrual cycles, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, breastfeeding, and more. Not having adequate facilities is both a threat to their health and safety and a barrier for women’s participation in the workforce.

For men with health issues such as prostate problems, returning to work can be impossible just because of where the bathroom is. When the amenities do exist, they are often not clean or hygienic, are far away from the work site or in an unsafe location. 

In some work sites women report simply not drinking water at all on a 12-hour shift rather than leaving their post for a half hour round trip just to use the bathroom. This is an unsafe practice that can leave workers dehydrated and fatigued – but needing to pack up a job so that one worker can be transported to the bathrooms also puts pressure on everyone to rush to get things done quicker or delay the whole job.  It’s an unfair choice that workers shouldn’t have to make.

Additionally, women face major barriers when attempting to address these issues. They face employers who believe that the provision of adequate amenities will somehow provide women with ‘special treatment’.

“While I worked on wind farms – often there was a complete lack of any nearby facilities. For me, or for the men on site. The transformer in this photo – was our toilet…literally” – ETU member on a wind farm in Victoria.

My principal contractor refused to provide the women on site with amenities. When I brought this issue up on site, he threatened me, a female electrical subcontractor, that I would receive no further contracts if I continued to ‘complain’ and refuse to use the men’s toilet.” – ETU member.

Campaign updates

In September 2021 our Union held a follow-up workshop with union members and non-members around Australia to discuss next steps for the ‘Nowhere to Go’ campaign.

The report has attracted a lot of media attention, featuring on ABCChannel Seven Newsnews.comWomen’s Agenda and even the attention of international unions.

The workshop was attended by shadow minister for Sydney Tanya Plibersek and included helpful information about how to approach politicians to start the process of legislative change. The workshop also established state groups who discussed who their political target would be and when they would approach them.

ETU members also presented at the ALP Status of Women committee in October 2021.

In November 2021 the ETU Women’s Committee brought a toilet to NSW Parliament House to raise awareness of the issue among politicians and on social media.

ETU women’s committee members have presented on this issue at state and national ETU women’s conferences to spread awareness of this issue, as well as at WIMDOI.

The ETU Acting National Secretary Michael Wright spoke about this issue at the National Jobs and Skills Summit.

In October 2022 the ETU ran a national survey of thousands of members which revealed shocking results of access to and standards of amenities. The results attracted national news coverage of this issue on radio and print.

In March 2023 SafeWork in South Australia launched a crackdown on inadequate toilet facilities in the construction industry, in part due to the Nowhere to Go campaign.

Send us your toilet photos…

Email your horror bathroom photos to eimear@etuaustralia.org.au with a description of the location and industry. We’ll use them as part of our campaign.