The newly formed SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) will soon apply for its seat at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), where it will have its first confrontation with the three major incumbent labour federations.
“The unions in Nedlac are compromised and we will bring a new voice,” said Mac Chavalala, Saftu’s newly elected president.
“We know they will try to block us and we will make sure that does not happen.”
Nedlac is where government, organised business, organised labour and organised community groupings meet to discuss social and economic policy.
The last time a new labour federation tried to get into Nedlac was in 2004 and that federation, Consawu, was in effect blocked by the three incumbent federations’ veto.
They are Cosatu, Fedusa and Nactu.
Saftu’s 680 000-odd members already make it larger than Fedusa and Nactu combined.
Some of Saftu’s first pronouncements have been criticisms of the recent deals struck by the other federations in Nedlac around the national minimum wage and new rules around strikes.
The federation has a lot of immediate housekeeping, including finalising the federation’s constitution with submissions garnered from last week’s founding congress.
Numsa alone comprises half the federation and at the metalworkers’ union’s national congress late last year delegates specifically raised the concern that Numsa should not bankroll the rest of the new federation.
The self-sufficiency rule Saftu was adopting would be that each union pay fees in proportion to its membership, which does mean that Numsa resources will buoy the organisation as a whole, but on a fair basis, said Chavalala.
A perennial issue in the union world has been poaching and so-called union rivalry.
Saftu had not adopted Cosatu’s “one sector, one union” rule, but would encourage its affiliates in the same sectors to merge where possible, said Chavalala.
Saftu has eight unions in the public sector and two in local government.
The public sector unions are mostly small, but their combined membership would be 123 000.
Part of Saftu’s declaration when it launched addressed the apparent hesitance of the state to recognise the smaller Saftu affiliates.
While Numsa recently made itself a general union able to recruit in all sectors, Saftu is adopting a rule that unions should not amend their scopes.
This involves amending their constitutions and has real legal consequences when seeking recognition in workplaces where employers can refuse on the basis of a union’s formal scope not covering their business.
According to Chavalala, the reasoning behind this limitation is that there are masses of small upcoming unions in the country already.
The default position should always be to draw them into the federation and not to destroy or displace them, he said.
Numsa would not go and try to recruit the cabin crew now striking at SAA, for example, he said.
The no-poaching policy extended to Cosatu unions as well, said Chavalala.
“We anticipate that more Cosatu affiliates will join Saftu in their entirety. We won’t say no to individual members, but we expect whole affiliates to come over.”