SABC News - Unions forced to find ways to survive amid retrenchments:Thursday 10 March 2016

Unions forced to find ways to survive amid retrenchments

Thursday 10 March 2016 17:20

Angela Bolowana

The highest job losses are in the mining sector.(SABC)

Labour unions are being forced to find ways to survive as companies retrench workers or close down as they battle the struggling economy.

Although the highest job losses are in mining, other sectors such as transport and logistics, communications, wholesale and retail trade are also shedding jobs.

Unions are not only facing massive losses of members, but they are also spending money challenging companies retrenching workers.

Forced to be in survival mode, ratings agency Moody's recent salvo is only the latest blow to South Africa's battered economy.

The agency has put the country on notice for a downgrade and unions are bracing themselves for the worst for their workers.

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's (Numsa) Irvin Jim claims the absence of load shedding in past months is due to tough times.

“Some people argue that Eskom has turned the corner in terms of load shedding, in our view we believe that is not accurate the real reason its keeping the lights on is because of the fact that many companies that are not operating are moth balled. Yes we are facing a difficult moment in fact this is a job loss blood bath in the true sense of the word,” says Jim.

Numsa is involved in the formation of a new trade union federation which will be launched later this year

However, it is a double edged sword as more workers lose their jobs, union contributions are decreasing, but they are spending more in litigation.

Congress of South African Trade Unions' (Cosatu) spokesperson Sizwe Phamla says, “You have a situation where the legal bill is a bit higher because you have to contest some of these retrenchments, you have to contest some the restructuring taking place, especially the working conditions that are negatively affected. And also you have a situation where you are really spending more money at the same time losing money so yes unions are really taking a strain.”

To survive they are going all out to woo non-unionized members. The figure stands at 80% of the country's work force.  

Phamla says many are turning to unions jolted by the grim reality.

“People are looking around in the work places and in the sectors and they realize without a union you will defend yourself as a worker during restructuring or during the retrenchment process itself they have no one to rely on,” adds Phamla.

Numsa is involved in the formation of a new trade union federation which will be launched later this year.

Trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi, who is leading this cause, says workers are currently disillusioned with unions and the only way that unions can survive is to change the status quo.

Although he was expelled from Cosatu, Vavi says they have written a letter to Cosatu to propose a new united structure.

“We have written letters to everybody including Cosatu to say your own interest will be better served if you abandon the politics of sleeping in the same bed as the employer and embrace the concept of an independent trade union movement that is militantly fighting taking up the interest of the workers. We don’t know if Cosatu will respond to that they have said nothing to us,” says Vavi.

Vavi says part of their plan is also to include the unemployed.

He adds that the new trade union federation is actually not interested in forming new unions but rather in uniting the 180 existing ones along class lines as the survival of unions only lies in unity and strength in numbers.

Currently 34 unions have thrown in their lot with the new federation.

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