Without strength in numbers we are not going to succeed – Vavi

2013-02-08 09:00

Two out of every three workers in South Africa are not part of a union, Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has said.

“South Africa has a trade union density rate of 30%. We have a huge task ahead as a federation, especially amongst the most vulnerable and exploited workers,” Vavi said yesterday in a speech prepared for delivery at the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) collective bargaining conference in Johannesburg.

This was the problem facing Cosatu when it came to collective bargaining, he said.

The mining sector had the highest union density of 78%.

“Which, perhaps, is part of the explanation for Amcu’s [The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union] desperation to win members away from NUM,” he said.

“But that still means that out of every four workers, there is still one that is not organised into any union.”

Apart from farmworkers and domestic workers, the construction sector had the lowest number of unionised workers, at 12%.

Vavi said Cosatu needed the NUM to help recruit members into other affiliates.

“Without strength in numbers across all sectors we are not going to succeed in our task of improving wages and working conditions,” he said.

Cosatu and its affiliates had to put effort into defending workers in disciplinary cases and in wage bargaining.

Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration statistics showed that only 46% of the cases referred to arbitration by Cosatu affiliates went in favour of workers, said Vavi.

“Our members have indicated that they are reasonably happy with the way in which unions are taking up disciplinary cases, health and safety issues, retrenchments... racism, discrimination against women, and supporting people living with HIV/Aids.

“But our members are not satisfied with the outcomes of wage negotiations, or with skills development... or our support for temporary and casual workers... or with our fight for better child care,” he said.

“What our members are telling us is that we have to pull up our socks in all areas of service.”

Vavi said it was also of concern that a third of Cosatu members across all affiliates claimed there was corruption in their union. Twelve percent said they had seen it.

Forty-three percent of NUM members believed there was corruption and 20% said they had seen it.

“Now, whether or not this statistic is a reflection of reality is not the point. If such high numbers of members think there is corruption, then we must be worried about trust,” said Vavi.

The unions could not call on the government to take action against corruption and then ignore it when it was happening in their own house.

“We must accept that where trust is low, relationships in the organisation, and the organisation itself, becomes unstable. Transparency in all matters of money in our affiliates is a must,” he said.

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