Meet the top 3 women who have been trained in one of the most dangerous jobs in Port St. John’s
The 16-meter extreme tide is not the only mega-sized thing in port cities.
St. John’s is the largest port in Atlantic Canada, handling 28 million tons of cargo each year.
Everything at the west terminal—from container ships to container stacks to the blue cranes designed to move these containers—is huge.
Hannah Graham said that with all these large and moving parts, “you are as easily squashed as if you go in the wrong place.” “If you don’t see where you are going, you may die.”
Watch | Three women work as dockers:
As Terry Wilson, President and Business Agent of ILA Local 273, said, when you, like Graham, are learning to do one of the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs in the port, all of this can be daunting.
That job? Container lashing. Graham, along with fellow trainees Guy Ryan Hill and Liz Kramer, was the first woman in Port St. John’s history to pass the test.
“They did a great job,” said Troy Elliott, a 30-year docker.
“This is a very hard job. It requires a lot of endurance and strength in different climates. It can be very cold, minus 35 degrees, hands are frozen, anyway. But the work must be done.”
What is the container?
Container lashing may require some explanation for laymen.
When the large ships arrive at the port, all these containers are not just scattered on the deck. They are tied or locked with complex metal bars, turnbuckles and other gear systems to prevent them from sliding in the open sea.
When they arrive at St. John’s Port, all the restraints need to be lifted. This is one of the arduous tasks that a few machines cannot complete.
The lifting and tow bars each weigh 50 to 60 pounds, and the container lashing machine makes the container “ready for the crane to lift and place it in the yard, and then ship it all over Canada, or [United] State, or whatever,” Elliott said.
Historically, whipping is a man’s job.
“We are working hard to diversify the workforce and include some women in it,” Wilson said.
In April 2021, the port tried to revise its recommended list-the entry level for those who wish to work in the shore industry.
Of the 140 applications, only 7 were women. Of these seven people, only Graham, Cyr and Kramer passed the test. (Wilson pointed out that many people also failed.)
“It would be nice to have a good percentage of women on the waterfront,” Wilson said.
Liz Kramer is no stranger to working hard on the water. Before her debut, she worked in the port near the west pier, fishing Gaspero and Shad.
“You get exercise, that’s for sure. If it weren’t for my fishing exercise, I might not have the strength to lift that pole,” Kramer said.
“Years ago, I used to be a computer analyst. After giving birth, I decided to work outdoors.”
All in all, she said, “I think there is nothing better than this. Outdoors, enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, even if you do have some hard work. There is nothing better for me-nothing . And the salary is not so good or good.”
In other words, she will not give up fishing anytime soon.
“Of course, I can see myself working full-time. But as long as there are fish in the sea, I will do the same.”
Cramer said that, like fishing, the port “usually is a male-dominated workplace. But you just deal with men as usual. And everyone here is actually very friendly and helpful.”
From welding to seashore
When Guylaine Cyr heard from friends that they were looking for women who wanted to work, she applied to the port.
Cyr studied business full-time at the St. John campus of the University of New Brunswick, and he thinks this job “may be a good middle ground [job] In case I can’t find a job right after graduation,” she said.
But she also has a hobby of manual labor.
She studied blacksmithing at the College of Arts and Crafts in Nelson, British Columbia, and obtained a welding certificate in La Pocatiere at QC before attempting lashing.
“In society,” Cyr said, “We think that as far as women in the industry are concerned, we are far from what we were in the 1970s. This is true.
“But there is still a lot of work to be done. The pay is fair, the treatment we receive. This is not something we often talk about,” she said.
“Of course I hope to see more women in the port.”
For 20-year-old Hanna Graham, working in the port has always been his lifelong dream.
“I come from a docker family,” she said. Now she works with her grandfather, who was a dock worker for decades. This is the second job she has ever had.
“When I was a kid, it started as a joke,” she said, “it seems to become more and more a reality because I think it’s easy for me.”
She said that before starting, her grandfather gave her a few pieces of advice.
“Swear more. Don’t take anything personal,” she said. “Do your job. As long as you are being yourself, not hurting anyone, and no one hurting you, you are A-1.”
This job, she said, “If you have the backbone to deal with it, it is definitely worth it…it is definitely empowering and rewarding.”
For people who are strong and don’t mind working, floggers can lead a good life-starting at $33 an hour.
However, getting working time as a non-union employee can be a problem.
“It’s based on work needs,” Wilson said. “When a boat comes in, everyone is working. If we don’t have a boat for three or four days, only a small number of people are working.”
Graham has some suggestions for other women who want to enter the industry.
“Do some push-ups and then come down. If you can lift that bar, all the strength belongs to you.”