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Date: Tue, 21 Jul 98 15:14:36 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: S.AFRICA: Single Mother Fights for Women in the Trades
Article: 39480
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.29794.19980722121544@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 128.0 **/
** Topic: S.AFRICA: Single Mother Fights for Women in the Trades **
** Written 11:28 AM Jul 20, 1998 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 9:18 AM Jul 18, 1998 by gagliajn@netcom.com in list.beijing95 */
/* ---------- "[B95: ] Chiya Shows Her Mettle" ---------- */

From: Jennifer Gagliardi <gagliajn@netcom.com>

Single Mother Fights for Women in the Trades

By Sechaba ka'Nkosi, Mail and Guardian,
10 July 1998

Johannesburg (Mail and Guardian, July 10, 1998) - A single mother of three is conducting a lone mission to ensure that the largely masculine metal industry respects its female employees.

So determined is Rain Chiya to prove that women are as capable of controlling massive machinery as men are, that she pushed her way into a position as a crane driver after being employed as a cleaner.

Today, Chiya is a full-time health and safety representative at a Germiston company that once tried to frustrate her every attempt to tackle male supremacy.

She uses phrases like "women's empowerment" and "male domination" when describing her rebellion against the establishment. "For me combating male domination has always been a challenge that I had to accept as personal. It has never been an easy choice. It is not easy to persuade men that women are equally capable of doing the kind of jobs they do," she says.

Chiya's revolt - albeit isolated - has given hope to the mostly black women who are employed in South Africa's major industries at low wages as tea ladies and cleaners.

Statistics point to the catering, commercial, hospitality and cleaning industries as being dominated by women holding prominent positions with wages equal to men. But the domestic-worker and farming industries are women- oriented, with wages far lower than their male counterparts.

Chiya's association with the metal industry dates back to 1980 when she joined Rand Scrap Iron as a sweeper, office cleaner and tea lady.

Five years later, a male chef was fired. When the company could not find anyone to replace him, they moved Chiya into the position with a R3 increase per week. It took another five years before she fought for a promotion.

"After much frustration I felt I should occupy one of the cranes to get an increase. The company told me I would not get anything because I wasn't a crane driver. I asked them what it took to be one, and when they realised that I was serious, they introduced a new system that required certificates for crane drivers."

Chiya was asked to write an aptitude test. She says the company was surprised when she passed with 98. "They thought teagirls could not read and write English. Fortunately I had high school education so I was a different kind of teagirl. After that I got my job as a crane driver."

But her frustrations did not end there. When she fell pregnant with her youngest child four years ago and could no longer drive a crane, she was demoted to a sweeper, because "the bosses told me they did not have any other position for me. I think it was more of a strategy to get rid of me. But I was determined to stay on."

Chiya's experience helps her in her new position as health and safety representative. Her experience as a student and a youth activist in the mid- 1970s in KwaThema also drives her attempt to improve working conditions.

Two years after she joined Rand Scrap Iron she tried to introduce her fellow workers to unionism. But she says her employers tried to use cultural differences between males and females to turn the workers against her.

'It was viewed as a family business then. The bosses employed more women because they could pay them less. They were paying us below Seifsa [Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa] rates. Each week they paid us in brown envelopes. The amount was different each time.

"When Anglo American took over the company in 1982, the director was a union basher. He capitalised on African culture. He said to male shop stewards, 'How can you have a woman as a shop steward and a leader?'"

For Chiya this attitude was more of challenge than a defeat. She started defending her fellow colleagues - including the men who did not have much respect for her. In time, she was elected to the company's shop steward committee.

Today she is chair of the Congress of South African Trade Unions's Witwatersrand region, a councillor in the Greater Springs Town Council, head of the Gauteng Association of Local Government and its representative in the South African Association of Local Authorities.

Copyright 1998 Mail and Guardian. Distributed via Africa News Online.

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