Like any other business trade unions also have problems managing their ‘businesses’ and ensuring they remain solvent.   Trade unions may demand wage adjustments linked to the rise in inflation for their members.   But most trade unions do not always have the luxury of doing the same for their union officials.   Trade unions are forbidden by law from conducting any ‘business for gain’.

Employers in the private sector really have three options if they agree to adjust wages upwards

  • increase income to cover the extra costs provided competition allows them to do so;
  • reduce the number of employees and ensure the wage bill bears the same relationship to the overall cost of conducting business; or
  • shut up shop.

In addition they have to be totally independent.   This means they are totally dependent on the fees or subscriptions of their members.   But what happens if they have budgeted for the year ahead and then their members start resigning by going it alone or joining other unions ?   Surely they have to adjust their wages for their officials by aligning them to their cost structure and not inflation ?   In that sense they have to engage in a ‘value exchange’ exercise to stay alive.

In her report Cosatu faces up to problems in affiliates  first published yesterday in Business Day, Natasha Marrian draws attention to serious ‘management’ problems in the trade union movement, more particularly Cosatu and its affiliates.

According the report the following affiliates of Cosatu are in ‘trouble’:

  • Satawu – South African Transport and Allied Workers Union;
  • Ceppwawu – Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union;
  • Cwu – Communications Worker Union;
  • Sadnu – South African Democratic Nurses Union; and
  • Cwusa – Creative Workers Union of SA


THERE is no overarching solution to the problems faced by Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) affiliates such as infighting, splits or being deregistered by the Department of Labour, federation deputy general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said on Monday.

The federation admitted last year that weaknesses in trade union organisation, such as social distance between union leaders and their members, had contributed to the labour unrest experienced in the mining sector.

It also emerged last year that most of the federation’s 19 affiliates were facing deregistration by the Department of Labour.

The difficulties faced by unions also included poor budgeting.   The federation was ready to intervene and assist, Mr Ntshalintshali said.

The splinter union from Satawu, the National Transport Movement (NTM) -— led by the union’s former president Ephraim Mphahlele — is fighting for recognition at South African Airways (SAA).

A Cosatu insider said one of the unions in “deep trouble” and “close to collapsing” was the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu), with divisions arising over the union’s investment arm.   Union members were apparently joining other Cosatu affiliates such as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa because of the divisions.

General secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, in his organisational report to Cosatu’s congress last year, said issues relating to the investment arm had not yet been resolved.