I Worked In A Workshop – By Josie Cooke

From: Women and Disability – An Issue. A Collection of writings by women with disabilities. This booklet was produced by the Melbourne based Women with Disabilities Feminist Collective in the late 1980’s. The exact publishing date is unknown. Copyright.


There is a lot of harassment from male workers. You report to supervisors but nothing is done about it. People get treated differently. People get the blame for things they haven’t done. There is a difference from supervisors according to how good a worker you are. Supervisors treat you as if you are stupid. Employees steal money, you report it to the supervisors but nothing is done about it. You have to make it up from your’ own pay. When you request to change work sections you are told to stay in the area. Women supervisors are better than men. Men supervisors don’t budge to help with the work. They expect you to do the job without any sort of practice. Never are you good or fast enough. Your best isn’t good enough. Other workers distract you while you are working. If you do stop and talk you will get told off, but they don’t do anything about the distractions. Food preparation is done by women and men. In the sewing room there are mostly women more than men. Woodwork is mainly men and few women. In the Subcontracting Section there are both men and women. We are not told our work pay rates or given any explanations or standard pay rules. Younger people seem to get paid more than older ones. People liked by the supervisors get more money.

Sick days you get docked for being sick like having menstrual pains etc. They started paying sick leave and found that too many people were getting sick, so they stopped it. Holiday pay, you get four weeks off a year without pay. The bosses decide when, there is no choice at all over holidays. Workers comp, nothing whatsoever. Safety they couldn’t care less about. They should be doing lots of things.

Some workers think they are supervisors and tell you what to do. It’s mostly the men and not women. If women are harassed they get blamed not the man. Supervisors don’t stop harassment from these other workers. They support it more than anything. School kids give us a very hard time going to and from work. They think cause you have got a disability that you are stupid. At lunchtimes men playa lot of cricket etc. Women watch or sit in the lunch room talking and doing craft-work of some kind. Supervisors can take advantage of you sometimes while you are working, like touching you on the shoulder, especially men supervisors not the women. I think safety conditions in workshops should be upgraded more. People who work in these places should have a fair go in what they do. People should be given a chance to work in different areas. Not just in one all the time.

I worked in a workshop in different areas such as the sewing room and the kitchen and the food-room. I worked there for 3 years. Used to start early, used to have to get up early. Used to take a bus to work. We didn’t live far from the workshop. We used to have an intellectually disadvantaged person who worked in the office. If we were late from morning tea break this lady would tell us to get back to work in the food-room. Most of the staff used to think they were supervisors. There was a young boy who worked in the kitchen who touched me. I didn’t like it one bit at the time. I reported it to the foreman of the place. He wanted to see the young boy in question. He must have told him to keep his hands to himself, because after he was spoken to it never happened again.

Women supervisors are a bit stronger than men supervisors and they seem to tell people off a lot more than the men supervisors. I think men supervisors are too soft. I don’t think an office worker should be allowed to tell the workers what to do. It’s the supervisor’s job to say something to the person concerned. I think disadvantaged people should have the right to choose the work they would like to do. Rather than being told what areas to work in. I think it is very unfair for the people to be told what to do. They should not be told where to work. They should be allowed to make up their own minds where they work.

I didn’t like the way the place was run. You used to get treated as if you didn’t know anything. If you made mistakes you used to be told off a lot. You weren’t allowed to answer the supervisor back. Some did but you used to get told off more if you did and you weren’t allowed to do anything against their word. The harassment was bad especially when you were trying to do your work. It was quite annoying at the time. I hated the fights and carrying on. I took no notice of them whatsoever. If there was fighting going on the supervisor used to tell them off and tell the people concerned to get on with their work. You would get blamed a lot for something you never did. They didn’t care if you got saw dust from the woodwork in your eyes. There was no eye protection whatsoever. No safety guards on the saws to stop someone from getting injured. The bosses treated you as if you didn’t know anything. They didn’t care if you injured yourself.