Information on Trade Unions in South Africa
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South Africa's trade union movement, the largest and most disciplined on the continent, has played an influential role in determining labour market and industrial relations policies in the country.
Its role in dismantling apartheid legislation and practices in the workplace remain one of its major achievements. During the apartheid era it succeeded in making employers appreciate 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.
Wildcat strikes - a regular occurrence in the 1970s through late 1980s - have significantly decreased, thanks in part to stipulations in the Labour Relations Act giving workers and their unions redress through mediation, conciliation and arbitration.
Labour Relations Act
Trade union representation is now an accepted fact of industrial practice. Almost all sectors of the economy, including the public service, have representative unions which engage employers over issues affecting their workforce.
Regulated, co-operative labour relations
Industrial 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 nine institutions to settle disputes, ensure fairness in the workplace, and nurture sound, co-operative industrial relations.
Three main union federations
According to the 2001/02 South Africa Yearbook, there were about 17 trade union federations at the end of 2000. This number could be higher, though, as federations are not required by law to register, and unaffiliated unions spring up all the time.
There are, however, three prominent trade union federations with affiliates operating in the different sectors of the economy. These 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.