Cosatu to listen

"We are acutely aware that unity is the only weapon workers have to improve their wages and conditions of employment"

Cosatu will hold a listening campaign to shore up support for the social and economic measures it wants introduced, it said on Friday.

"We are acutely aware that unity is the only weapon workers have to improve their wages and conditions of employment," the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said after a bargaining and campaign conference last week.

"This matter of unity was forcefully reinforced by the secretary-general of the ANC [Gwede Mantashe] to all of us... when he warned us that allowing a degeneration of worker organisation[s] would be a disaster," it said.

Cosatu was referring to a warning by Mantashe that the 2.2 million member federation was on a "slippery slope". Cosatu said providing service to the members of its 19 unions was a challenge.

Statistics from the Naledi Workers' Survey show that only 46 percent of cases referred by Cosatu affiliates to arbitration at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration were decided in favour of workers.

"Through the Naledi survey our members are telling us in plain language that we have to pull up our socks in all areas of service."

Changes to address weaknesses would include reinstating regular general meetings and workers forums in all workplaces, with the aim of creating more responsive structures and more accountable leaders.

Cosatu would pay attention to members in small towns, the sites of most of its 236 local branches, and to establishing mobile offices and "centres of service" in these areas.

Cosatu said it was worried that 35 percent of its members said they had not held shop steward elections in their workplaces in the past four years. Half of non-Cosatu unions polled said the same.

Cosatu noted that, of the 193 registered unions in South Africa, 117 did not belong to the country's four union federations, with multiple unions in the catering, wholesale, cleaning and security sectors.

It made the declaration after a bruising period for its affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers. It was sidelined during a prolonged strike in the gold and platinum sector last year, as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union gained ground.

The declaration made no direct mention of the labour issues which arose before or after 34 people, almost all of them mineworkers, were killed in a clash with the police at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, Rustenburg, during a strike on August 16.

At one point, Vavi's delegation was stoned when it tried to address striking mineworkers.

Cosatu said it would mobilise for a legislated national minimum wage as part of its greater programme of reducing poverty and closing the wage gap between whites and blacks.

It did not stipulate a minimum wage, but said the R3033 which labour researchers found was the norm in 2011, was too little. It rejected the argument that raising the minimum wage would lead to further unemployment. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has previously suggested a minimum wage of R4500 per month.

Cosatu wanted Unemployment Insurance Fund payments extended beyond the current six-month limit, stop the unemployed having to live off other people, or off other people's social grants, and to include people who had resigned.

It also wanted the Labour Relations Act changed to restrict the right to hire "scab" or replacement labour. It remained opposed to labour brokers.

It wanted the National Planning Commission mandated to revise parts of its National Development Plan, including that it nationalise the SA Reserve Bank.

Cosatu said it was concerned about the lack of focus on industrialised jobs in the plan's job creation goals towards 2030.

It planned to resist a Constitutional Court application by the Free Market Foundation which could strike down collective bargaining laws, and voiced concern about a court judgment which made unions responsible for damage caused by striking workers.

Cosatu criticised leaks of "distorted and false information" made in constitutional structures. This could be a reference to reports that its central executive committee had resolved to probe Vavi for alleged wrongdoing in relation to the sale of its previous headquarters.