From the time she joined the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority in 1990, Joyce Masiya was keen to join the trade union which was only three years old by then.
Not long in her search, she was relieved when the union’s first general secretary and founder of the union, Albeit Mtengwa came to her workplace during a membership recruitment exercise and Masiya joined instantly.
Since then, Masiya has never looked back and this was the beginning of an exciting and challenging experience which has pre occupied her life for 28 years as a trade union leader and activist.
She became involved in the branch activities and was also elected to represent workers at her work station. Her passion and activism saw her climbing up the ladder to be the chairperson of the National Women’s Advisory Committee in 2009, a position she holds to date.
Masiya said women in employment across the energy sector faced critical challenges than their male counterparts as they are made to balance work and social responsibilities.
She said the major out-doing women have is the stereotype that everyone involved in trade union activism is viewed as a person with loose morals and therefore their spouses are not comfortable to let them participate in this kind of work.
“This is one of the major challenges we face and it is a struggle for women to break this notion. One has to be strong and should stand against all forms of abuse and name calling otherwise there will never be a single female unionist,” she said.
The veteran unionist said employers were uncomfortable to employ women because when they go for maternity leave it is viewed as an interruption to company productivity.
She expressed concern over discrimination of women when it comes to accessing job opportunities and promotions.
“So most companies see women as a burden and this means fewer women are employed and ultimately this reduces the number of female members of the trade union. It is also a struggle to have women promoted to positions of influence,” she said.
Masiya challenged her counterparts to stand tall against all forms of sexual harassment at the workplace by reporting perpetrators to the union because at times some senior managers, who in most cases are men, might be reluctant to take action against their peers.
The forceful unionist challenged companies to ensure that they provide facilities which enable women to work comfortably without feeling segregated especially on the provision of safety wear and separate bathrooms for men and women at work stations.
“We sometimes have problems when employers fail to provide separate bathrooms for female workers and this is mainly the case in workstations located in remote areas. Women are forced to share toilets with their male counterparts. This also applies to safety wear as women are made to put on protective clothing meant for their male colleagues. It’s a ‘take it or leave it scenario,’ “she said.
In her capacity as the chairperson of IndustriALL Zimbabwe Women’s Committee which comprises eight unions, Masiya was instrumental in the development of the gender and youth policy documents which were replicated by other affiliates in the Sub Saharan Africa region.
She appreciated the union’s efforts to include women in leadership positions but noted that the women’s structure is lobbying for the 40 percent quota system threshold recommended by the International Labour Organisation.
Masiya, a paralegalist, has attained several leadership courses locally and regionally. She is also a mentor for young workers and takes her time to facilitate their training programmes.
From labour forums where they were always brutalised by the police- to fierce strikes which rocked her workplace since 1998, ‘the never say die spirit’ has been her guiding philosophy which has taken her this far.
“Despite the challenges I have soldiered on against all forces of oppression and demanded my space at the workplace particularly against male dominance. In trade unionism there is nothing for us without us,” she said.