Trade unions in South Africa
OriginsIts role in dismantling apartheid legislation and practices in the workplace remain one of its major achievements. During the apartheid era it succeeded in showing employers the benefits of negotiating with employees through their representative unions. The fruits of these negotiations included agreements on union recognition, wages, conditions of service, workplace restructuring and retrenchments. Trade unions are recognised in the Constitution, which provides for the right of workers to join trade unions, and for unions to collectively bargain and strike. The Labour Relations Act has given workers and their unions redress through mediation, conciliation and arbitration.
- Read more: the Department of Labour's Basic Guide to Trade Unions
Progressive policyIndustrial relations policy is regulated through labour legislation that is negotiated at the statutory National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). Trade union federations, employer bodies, the government and civic organisations are represented in Nedlac, which debates and tries to reach consensus on social and economic policy issues. South Africa's post-1994 labour legislation is among the most progressive in the world, providing for different institutions to settle disputes, ensure fairness in the workplace, and nurture sound, co-operative industrial relations.
- Website: www.nedlac.org.za
Three main union federationsAs of October 2015, there are 184 registered trade unions and 23 trade union federations in South Africa, according to the Department of Labour. Some of the oldest unions include the South African Typographical Union (SATU), registered on 15 October 1924; the National Union of Leather & Allied Workers, registered on 16 March 1926; and the Trawler & Line Fishermen's Union, registered 8 April 1944. The three prominent trade union federations with affiliates operating in the different sectors of the economy are the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), and the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu). Although the three federations and their respective affiliates compete for membership, they co-operate in forums such as Nedlac. They have also embarked on joint campaigns, including demonstrations against amendments to the Labour Relations Act. All three are registered with the International Trade Union Confederation. 1. Congress of South African Trade Unions Cosatu is the biggest of the country's three main trade union federations, with a combined membership of 2.2 million workers grouped into 20 affiliated trade unions. The majority of their members are in the mining and quarrying sector, followed by the public sector in community, social and personal services, and electricity, gas and water supply (2012 figures, Cosatu draft organisational report, PDF). Cosatu was launched in 1985, but was registered in 1986 following unity talks between unions and federations that had previously competed with one another. It believes in non-racialism, worker control, paid-up membership and international worker solidarity. It also subscribes to the principles of "one industry, one union" and "one country, one federation". It has entered into an alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party, referred to as the tripartite alliance.
- Website: www.cosatu.org.za
- Website: www.fedusa.org.za
- Website: www.nactu.org.za
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