Women loggers in NZ

By: Patrick Cox


In his latest column, Patrick Cox discusses the role of women in the logging industry in New Zealand

I have taken an annual leave at the first of April to try and bag some venison for the freezer. As my hair colour keeps changing to a lighter shade of grey and the old injuries keep playing up, it is getting harder and harder to climb around the hills, but I do not intend to give up until it is impossible. 

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For years, I hunted with the same old hunting mates and now most of them have dropped away. Over the last couple of years, I have broken my own rule of never taking a woman hunting. I thought this was a man’s domain, but my partner has joined me, and to be fair, she is good support and company and looks a lot prettier than those ugly mates of mine.

This year was no exception, and while sitting in the cottage during the middle of the day, the conversation got around to woman trying to do man’s works and my partner challenged me to write about it knowing full well I would be stepping into a minefield. So let’s do it.

There has been a lot in the news about women being poorly represented in business and the disproportion of women on company boards, equal pay for equal work, sexual harassment in the workplace and many other roadblocks woman face in everyday work.

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For years, I have struggled with this invasion of a man’s domain and have never been able to accept that women should even consider a career in forestry.

The reason being that women do not have the physical strength for this kind of work. The establishment of the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 and the Human Rights Act 1993 paved the way for women to enter into any industry they choose without discrimination and equal pay for equal work.

Statistically, in March 2015, women made up 64% of the workforce compared to men at 75%, but there were still more women unemployed than men. The gender pay gap in 2016 was sitting at 12%. Along with this came other changes. You could no longer advertise for ‘Bushman Wanted’; it had to change to ‘Bushperson Wanted‘. Back then I thought no woman would want to work in the bush, but I was wrong. Logging contractors employed a few women and turned them into log makers.

Before the transition to mechanisation, the logging industry was physically demanding and loggers had to able to step into any job should one member of the crew be away. I thought this was not possible for a woman to do. Now times have changed and more and more work is done by machines, which has opened the door for more women to join the logging industry.

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For those who employ women on machines, the consensus is they are gentler. Just a couple of weeks ago, I called on a logging site that had two women doing all the work. The only man on-site was the log truck driver. I watched this young woman load the truck. Her operation was smooth: the logs on the skid site were neatly stacked, making it a lot easier to load. I’ve always been a believer of ‘if you stacked it right, you loaded it right’.

The complete process was neat and tidy and was handled by a mother-daughter duo. Between the two of them, they were shovel logging and processing, with the experienced mother operating the harvester. They were comfortably putting out four to five loads a day.

After a conversation with the log truck driver, there were still a few reservations surrounding repairs and maintenance requirements and the physical demands of fixing these problems.

In today’s world, with health and safety issues, many contractors do not carry out their own repairs but engage a specialist technician to do it for them. With machines being designed with computers and diagnostics, you cannot fix things yourself anyway.

Log trucks do not carry a spare wheel anymore, keep the tare weight down, and should you get a puncture, you call the tyre company and they fix it for you. Machines are now fitted with auto grease, so grease gun aren’t required. As soon as you turn the key, the computer checks the oil levels.

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So here we are in 2018 and women are firmly entrenched into the logging industry. Working in the bush is not for everyone, but as the industry continues to improve its health and safety statistics, it becomes a more desirable place to work with good remuneration packages available, which could see women choose it as a profession.

I was recently talking to a contractor who has started an 18-year-old female as a log maker/quality controller. This young woman is the daughter of a logging contractor who would not employ her, but she was determined to work in the bush and so managed to get a job. With a determination like that, it looks like we will see more women in the logging industry for years to come.

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