Interview with Ivana Dimitrova and Blaguna Stojkoska of the Construction Workers’ Union in Macedonia (SGIP)

21 September 2018 07:02

Ivana Dimitrova and Blaguna Stojkoska 

Can you introduce yourselves and how you became a union member? 

Ivana Dimitrova: I work on the biggest infrastructure project in Macedonia, building the motorway of Ohrid to the city of Kicevo. I am in charge of the construction of the bridges.

On my first job interview, I was rejected because I was considered “too cute” to work with male workers. It was clear discrimination, but I wanted the job so much that I applied again, only to be rejected. I did not give up.  I applied again and was finally hired.

I joined the union as soon as I started to work because I was told that being a union member had many advantages.  I also wanted to make sure I would never be discriminated again for being a woman. 

After some time, the SGIP asked me to participate in a BWI interview.  That is when I met Blaguna Stojkoska who convinced me to be active in the union to support workers.  After two years of training, I became a shop steward in the Granit Company.

Blaguna Stojkoska, Secretary of the Union of SGIP: I have been a member of the union since my first job at the construction company EnergoMont. A short time after I started working, the company suffered an economic crisis and we were not paid. As an economist, I was involved in the preparation of financial analysis for the company and I came to discover that the company was being dishonest. 

It was a great challenge but thankfully I received assistance from the union. I was then hired by the SGIP as an expert in economic issues in the area of wages and collective bargaining.”

Ivana has talked of you as an important mentor for her in the union. How has this relationship developed?

Blaguna: We met Ivana on a site where we were filming a video about women in construction. Her statement was very good, and I encouraged her to take part in the activities of our youth section, and then later in other areas of the union. I believe we did not make a mistake in recruiting her.  

What makes a good mentor?

Blaguna: A good mentor should encourage and trust other workers and share his or her knowledge and experience. We need to listen carefully to workers because they can always give you something useful from their experience.

What advice would you give to young women who have just joined the union?

Ivana: To believe in themselves, to support the idea that together we are stronger, to learn more because knowledge is the key of gaining strength and power, to ask questions and not be afraid of failure, and to take actions instead of waiting for someone else to solve the problems.

What is the biggest challenge for women leaders in trade unions?

Blaguna: It is a challenge to be a women leader in the construction trade union since a very small percentage of women work in the sector.  So, a good leader is one who can successfully represent all workers regardless of gender.

Ivana:  It is a challenge working with men who do not think that women are for fighting for better rights and working conditions for everyone.  My biggest challenge was getting people to trust me.  Being a leader is not just being ”The Big Boss”, it is much more. It is very satisfying when you have the power to act on behalf of 2,000 who support me. 

Do you expect more from women trade union leaders than male trade union leaders?

Blaguna: In our union, the shop stewards in the largest companies where SGIP has members are women. I think that women are good organizers and respond more quickly to challenges.

Ivana: Everything is changing.  When I started I was considered “cute” but today I am one of the most successful engineers in the country and the leader of the country’s biggest company. I think women have better negotiating skills, and, connect to people better.  The construction industry in Macedonia has always been considered a man’s world.  So, being successful in the industry, is, I believe a big step for women and gender equality.  It is good to be a part of this change. 

How do you think men can support women and the campaign for gender equality?

Blaguna: Only if they are fully informed and involved in the campaign for gender equality.

Ivana: Men should be engaged in all aspects of the campaign for gender equality. They should listen to what women deal with every day in the workplace and the home to better understand the challenges we face.   They have wives, sisters, daughters and nieces.  If they do not want somebody to treat or value them differently just because they are a woman, then, they should start appreciating women co-workers more.  Personally, for me, it is not about being a man or a woman it is about being a leader.