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Female garbage truck driver training program in Ipswich gets anti-discrimination exemption

Rumbling through the streets in her garbage truck, scooping up bins in its path — is just another day in the office for Belinda Janson.

Key points:

  • Women only make up about 26 per cent of the transport industry workforce in Australia
  • The QIRC granted an exemption to the council to advertise for a training program for female waste truck drivers
  • The order applies for three years and only relates to a HR licence training program

The 42-year-old is currently the only female waste truck driver at Ipswich City Council (ICC), west of Brisbane, making her something of a rare breed.

“Occasionally it is harder for females to get into the [truck-driving] industry,” Ms Janson said.

“A lot of people are under the assumption females can’t drive trucks or big rigs or whatever the case might be, so it is a little harder for women.

“But slowly we’re seeing more and more out there, which is good — girls can do it just as well as guys.”

Discrimination exemption granted

Long a male-dominated field, a 2019 report found women only make up about 26 per cent of the transport industry workforce in Australia and 17 per cent of the road transport sector.

But there is a drive for change.

Last June, the Ipswich City Council went to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) to seek an exemption under the Anti-Discrimination Act so it could advertise for a female-only training program for waste truck drivers.

The council argued there are often socio-economic barriers faced by women trying to obtain the Heavy Rigid (HR) licence, as well as significant costs involved.

Less than two months ago, the QIRC granted the request, saying doing otherwise would continue to disadvantage women who wished to become truck drivers.

The order applies for three years and only relates to a HR licence training program.

‘Give it a go’

Ms Janson says “it’ll be great to get some girls in”.

“Apply and give it a go — all you can do is try,” she said.

Having driven trucks for much of her life, she has enjoyed navigating waste trucks for the past three months.

Not to say the work could not be full-on, mucky and frustrating at times.

“I didn’t realise how much concentration it takes to pick up bins,” Ms Janson said.

“If you knock a bin over, drop it or make a mess, you have to strap your gloves on and clean it up.

“Cars can be parked in your way too but you smile and wave, clean it up, let it go and move on to the next bin.”

Asked if she noticed being the sole female waste truck driver at her workplace, she replied: “Sometimes you do, but not really.”

“The boys are all good — everyone’s been really good, welcoming, and easy to train,” Ms Janson said.

Ms Janson is currently the only female waste truck driver at the Ipswich council.(Supplied: Ipswich City Council)

‘Coming from all walks of life’

ICC environment and sustainability manager Kaye Cavanagh said she was not aware of any other councils applying for this sort of exemption.

“We’re really excited and looking forward to being able to offer the program in the new year,” she said.

“Some our female staff who are already in other areas of council have expressed interest in the program … and [may] potentially apply — they would never have probably thought of this as a potential career.”

Transport Women Australia spokeswoman Jacquelene Brotherton said women wanted to join the industry, but might not see a pathway in.

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“Companies that have gone through our program that have all got permission to advertise for women, they still have got men applying for a female-only course, which is amazing,” Ms Brotherton said.

“For every four spaces, they got over 250 women applying … so incredible interest in it when they saw a pathway in.”

Ms Brotherton said one of their “star-truck drivers” previously worked as a make-up artist.

“They’re coming from all walks of life into this because we’re finally showing them how to get there,” she said.

Ms Brotherton urged all companies to look at their recruitment ads and how their shifts were scheduled to help attract women to the industry.

“We have to be inclusive to everybody if we want to fill the gap,” she said.

In a statement, Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding said the council needed diverse employment opportunities and wanted to attract the best people for the job.

“This includes recruiting and supporting all members of our community who are interested in working in traditionally male-dominated industries,” Cr Harding said.

“Council’s workforce should reflect the wider Ipswich community and the creating pathways for more women to become drivers in our waste truck fleet will support this.

“Having more balanced driving crews makes good economic sense, enables employment growth, and leads to productivity and social gains.”

Female garbage truck driver training program in Ipswich gets anti-discrimination exemption Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding says the council needed diverse employment opportunities.(ABC News: Baz Ruddick)

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