May 28, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Shrinking unions face irrelevance, expert warns on eve of Workers’ Day

Drinking membership, rivalry between unions and radical changes in the nature of work could render unions meaningless, and Workers’ Day will allow them to reflect on their importance.

That is Gawie Cillié’s view , Industrial Relations Expert at Stellenbosch University Business School.

Cillié said unions played a key role in the struggle for democracy and workers’ rights, but only 23% of economically active people were now union members. up from 34% in 2016.

“With the younger generation of post-1994 workers unconvinced of the value of union membership and older members losing confidence in unions, Workers’ Day is on 1 It’s about time to think about how unions can ensure they remain relevant and adapt to the changing future of work,” said Cillié.

“Just as the future of work is uncertain, so it is the future of unions. In the face of political transition and serious economic challenges, South African unions must demonstrate great resilience and their ability to revitalize in innovative ways. It’s a matter of adapt or die.”

SA’s 225 registered unions represent some 3 million workers. However, Cillié said changing labor contracts, including outsourcing, informalisation and teleworking, have led to declining membership.

“Unions recruit members from the same pool and lose members to competing unions in the same sector. They need to look beyond the existing labor pool and consider how to organize disorganized workers and reach out to younger workers,” he said.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the informal sector, the livelihood of many South Africans – there is there was a way for unions to organize to represent and protect these workers.”

Dwindling membership had reduced union income and they had lost support from international donors. This hampered their ability to recruit and train competent civil servants, while many civil servants had also moved to more lucrative positions in the private sector.

Cillié said workers had lost confidence in unions and their officials. He said there are also many perceptions of “business unions” and that union leaders are more concerned with enriching themselves than with the day-to-day challenges of their members in the workplace.

“The question raised for ordinary workers is why should they belong to a union and pay their dues when their union is failing them? Unions have become bureaucracies in which officials are not accountable to their members,” Cillié said.

The unions’ relationship with the ANC and the government has received increasing attention since 1994, and there have been doubts as to whether unions could be effective they represent and serve workers while working with South Africa’s largest employer.

“Workers and critics argue that unions should be independent of any political party in order to fight effectively, when workers’ interests are undermined by government policies, and this alliance with the ruling party is a conflict of interest that can no longer be sustained,” Cillié said of management would replace unions. And while workers would continue to be protected by labor laws, the power of collective bargaining and collective action would be lost.

“There will be no bargaining between unions and employers to improve the labor law. Employers will be the sole decision-makers regarding working conditions, wages, health and safety, etc., regardless of the level of worker participation and representation allowed in different types of participatory forums that could be set up,” he said.

In a “revitalization” scenario, however, unions would play a key role in strengthening inclusive and effective social dialogue.

Cillié suggested that unions “embark urgently on the path of revitalization” by listening to the needs of a new generation of workers who are turning to technology and considering new forms of organization and collective action.

“They need to consider the changing nature of work and know how workers can be represented in new forms of work such as remote work and the informal economy,” he said.

“The union nts need to discuss how the movement can act collectively – across sectors, at regional and national levels – and how to improve union mandating, management and elections.

“It can be argued that unions for a balanced business environment, but they must find innovative ways to revitalize themselves or they will continue to lose members and be pushed into oblivion.”

Support independent journalism by subscribe to the Sunday Times. Only 20 R for the first month.