Rights of working women in the metal sector

The metal sector in South Africa is male-dominated. Numsa has 283 000 members and only 13% are women.

Numsa’s founding congress in 1987 resolved to fight all unequal and discriminatory treatment of women at work, society and in the union so that women and men could have equal status in all facets of life, as stated in the preamble of Numsa’s constitution:

“We, the members of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, firmly commit ourselves to a united South Africa, free of oppression and economic exploitation.

We believe that this can only be achieved under the leadership of an organised and united working class.

Our experience has taught us that to achieve this goal we must fight and oppose discrimination in all its forms within the union, the factories and in society.”

Numsa acknowledges that the status of women workers, both in society and the union environment, is not equal to men.

Also black women are further discriminated against on the basis of colour.

In an attempt to address the issue, the union formed the women’s forum in 1992.

In 1996 Numsa resolved to form a gender structure because South African society is patriarchal and men should be drawn in the process of transformation.

Also men have to understand women’s frustrations so that they can jointly resolve them.

The South African Constitution captures a number of rights that protect women, and protection has been increased in subsequent Acts of Parliament:

• The Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment are guiding documents for employer and employee.

• The Employment Equity Act addresses the inequalities of the past caused by the apartheid regime.

• The Skills Development Act ensures that workers’ skills are developed and portable.

• Domestic Violence Act protects women against abuse in their homes.

The Act covers a wide range of domestic relationships.

Numsa has also managed to win:

• Four months’ maternity leave on full pay;

• Three days’ family responsibility leave if a child or a husband is sick;

• Child care centres, to be built within the company. If this is not possible they can be in the residential areas where workers come from.

Many child-care centres are in the community because the conditions in our working areas are not suitable. This is a way to give back to the community.

• One salary for all – the same job earns the same pay irrespective of gender or colour; and

• Redeployment of pregnant women to a safer environment with 75% of earnings if she is a shift worker. The shift allowance falls away.


Implementation and monitoring of the Acts are very poor. Companies do not comply and when charged they pay a penalty and get away with it.

As far as the Employment Equity Act (EEA) is concerned, employers are promoting black males and white females and are still discriminating against other races.

There is still a high rate of sexual harassment because our assisting structures, like police stations, are not properly attending to these issues.

Some women find that after taking maternity leave they have no jobs, especially those employed on a contractual basis.

Status of women in metal sector

Historically, the metal industry was male-dominated, and it is only recently that women have entered this sector.

A survey in 2009 in engineering sector found that there are 33 000 women employees. In terms of employment equity:

• 4,3% of top management is female, compared with the all-industry average of 17, 8%.

• at the skilled technical level, women represent 11,1% against the all-industry average of 39,3%.

South Africa is facing a critical shortage of engineering talent.

It is difficult to attract and retain female engineers, who comprise 30% of the work force in the sector. Only one in ten engineers in South Africa is a woman.

The survey also indicates that only a few women in senior management received training in 2008.

Only 4,1% of female managers received training, against the all-industry average of 33,3%.

This in itself creates a further barrier for women to enter this sector and occupy historically male-dominated positions.

An extract from TUI women’s meeting report and presentation by Numsa in Cuba.


Numsa News No 1 April 2012