Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said while he could not comment on the HSRC survey he had no doubt the union movement faced challenges.   The collective bargaining conference last month had been held for this reason and had frankly identified the problems and a programme to tackle them, he said.   “Our own survey last year also revealed some very negative perceptions, for instance, about corruption in unions.   “This survey tells me one thing: improve.   In our collective bargaining conference last month we used the phrase: ‘Pull up your socks,’” he said.

Yesterday Business Day first published an article by Carol Paton SA workers ‘losing faith’ in strife-torn trade unions.


PUBLIC trust in trade unions, especially among black and working class South Africans, has plummeted in the past year, a survey carried out by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has found.

The poll was conducted in the wake of labour turmoil last year in which workers abandoned traditional trade unions and embarked on wildcat strike action.

The survey, which is based on a representative sample derived from census information and is carried out annually, found that among the public in general, trust in trade unions dropped from 43% in 2011 to 29% in 2012.

Among black and working class South Africans, who have formed the backbone of the labour movement, there was a significant growth in distrust of unions.   Thirty-five percent of black South Africans said they distrusted trade unions, compared with 21% the year before; while 53% of coloureds said they distrusted them, compared to 37% in 2011.

Among those who consider themselves to be part of the working class, distrust increased from 21% in 2011 to 37% in 2012, the survey found.

“Our analysis clearly shows that trust in unions has declined overall, also among those groups historically most supportive of the organised labour movement — full-time workers, the working and lower classes, and black and coloured South Africans.   Given that working class consciousness was one of the central themes of the SA labour movement, the growth of active distrust among these groups should be a cause of deep concern for the labour movement,” he said.

The HSRC findings resonate with those of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) itself, whose own survey of worker attitudes conducted by labour policy think-tank Naledi last year detected growing negative perceptions among organised workers.   The Naledi survey found, for instance, that one in three members believed there was corruption in their unions and one in seven said they had actually experienced it.

Most seriously affected by waning trust was the National Union of Mineworkers, which in the past year haemorrhaged members in the platinum and gold sectors.

Another example was this year’s Post Office strike, where workers who belonged to a union had chosen not to be represented by it and had appointed a lawyer instead.