Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gendered energy extraction in Fort McMurray

Three weeks ago, AU Press published a new book entitled Alberta Oil and the Decline of Democracy in Canada. You can download the entire book for free from Athabasca University Press. Sara Dorow’s chapter entitled “Gendering energy extraction in Fort McMurray” examines the gendered nature of social reproduction that underlies the tar sands economy. 

Basically, Dorow looks at how the role of women in Fort McMurray's economy often becomes to support men’s participation in the oil industry—through not working (at least for pay) or working part-time or working in “town” jobs in order to free up men to work in the plants and mines.

Dorow’s analysis is very interesting. Here are a couple of snap shots:
First, consider that in 2011 nearly one-third of the resident labour force in the [Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo] census area worked in “trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations,” and 90 percent of those workers oil industry ads and billboards is, ironically, more a reflection of the work that female bodies do to publicly produce the idea of inclusive economic participation than of the reality of work on the ground. (p. 279) 
Median earnings for men in the RMWB were almost three times those of women, and were still more than twice as high when we consider only those individuals working full-year, full-time (see table 10.1). This is considerably more of a gap than in the province as a whole, which already has one of the highest gender wage gaps in Canada. (pp. 279-280)

In this context, complained the spouse of an oil industry professional, “as much as the companies certainly say, ‘Balanced life, that’s what we want,’ there’s certainly that dichotomy between ‘Make sure you’re staying healthy and not working too much’ but ‘Could you come in and work tomorrow?’” (p. 281) 
A second form of flexibilization entailed women taking a paid job that worked around a male partner’s schedule in the oil patch. Often this was part-time work found in public, nonprofit, or service industry employment in town, given the relative dearth of part-time work with the oil companies themselves. (p. 282)
Dorow’s chapter also touches upon the experiences of (mostly racialized) live-in caregivers, which Dorow has previously discussed in this report. Overall, this is a very different take on the oilsands and well worth the read.

-- Bob Barnetson

No comments:

Post a Comment