Less faith in trade unions

2013-04-03 00:00

TRUST in South African trade unions is dwindling as the country’s adult working population questions whether the unions represent their needs any longer, a Human Sciences Research Council report released yesterday shows.

“In 2011, 34% of South Africans indicated that they trusted trade unions, falling to 29% in 2012, with 40% reporting that they distrusted trade unions and 31% remaining neutral,” the HSRC said.

This emerged from the analysis of data in a SA Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) carried out annually by the HSRC to test change in attitudes of adults on various topics.

The latest study surveyed a sample of 3 057 people in 2011 and a further 2 520 adults in 2012 on the extent they trusted or distrusted 13 institutions, including trade unions.

“The majority of the our adult population expressed great confidence in religious institutions [such as churches], which is typical pattern found across sub-Saharan Africa, but a lower level of trust in other institutions including traditional leaders, local government, politicians and trade unions,” the survey showed.

Benjamin Roberts, one of the SASAS co-ordinators, said it was not unusual for the unions to perform badly in the present socio-economic climate. “In many countries around the world people tend to turn to faith to give themselves an assurance as a way to get through the difficult times,” Roberts said.

He also said political events last year had led to many questions being asked on the extent unions represented the needs of workers and improving their working conditions, particularly those at the poor end.

This after mining workers expressed unhappiness with their union bosses, accusing them of being too close to management and willing to capitulate to their demands.

Farm workers recently embarked on violent strike action without approval of the unions in the Western Cape.

The survey showed between 2011 and 2012 public confidence in certain key institutions declined slightly, with trust in national government falling from 51% to 46% and unions registering a far more significant fall in public confidence.

The 2012 SASAS results also showed that distrust in trade unions had grown from 21% to 35% among Africans and to 53% among the coloured population.

The survey indicated that the rise of distrust in unions should be of deep concern to the labour movement.

“Without such confidence it is unlikely that the organised labour movement will be able to achieve its mandate of working-class prosperity and greater economic equality,” it said.

Federation of Unions of South African general secretary Dennis George said he was unaware of the survey.

George said union members continue to have confidence and trust in the labour movement.

“If you look at trade unions, members pay subscription fees and therefore know they can come to the union if they have grievances. It goes hand in hand with wage negotiations.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions and National Council of Trade Unions could not be reached for comment.

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