How To Join A Union In South Africa

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Trade unions are independent organizations that represent workers to their employers. If you join a trade union, you are joining a group that will negotiate workplace issues such as salary, hours of work, and other conditions, on your behalf.

Who can join a Trade Union?

In South Africa, according to Section 23: Labour Relations in the Constitution, every worker has the right to join a trade union. Trade unions are an important force in South Africa, with 3.1 million members representing 25% of the formal work force. The specific labour laws regarding trade unions are:

  • Every worker has the right to form and join a trade union and to participate in the union’s activities
  • Every worker has the right to strike
  • Every employer has the right to form and join an employers’ organisation and to participate in the activities of the organisation
  • Every trade union, employers’ organisation and employer has the right to engage in collective bargaining
  • Everyone has the right to fair labour practices

What are the benefits of joining a Trade Union?

Workers who join a trade union have the benefit of being part of an organised group who pull together around workplace issues. Topics ranging from paid maternity leave to salary increases to safety in the workplace are all dealt with as a group. You don’t have to tackle them on your own, as an individual. You also stand to get better protection from unfair treatment and victimisation and increased job security.

You also have the benefit of skilled negotiators and trained labour specialists who will strive to get the best possible deal for workers in their workplaces.

Unions can also help with other aspects of working life such as accompanying you to a disciplinary hearing and representing you if you’re in dispute with your employers.

Some unions run training, professional development and networking events.

How can you join a Trade Union?

The best way would be to find out if there is a shop steward or other union representative in your workplace. Make contact, find out what the conditions are for joining, and also find out what the union has achieved in the past couple of years. Be informed before you sign up.

What can Union Representatives do?

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) allows a registered union or a sufficiently representative union to:

  • Enter an employer’s premises to recruit or communicate with members
  • Hold meetings with employees outside working hours
  • Conduct union elections or ballots at the workplace
  • Instruct the employer to make deductions of and pay over union membership subscriptions from member employees
  • Organise reasonable leave, including possible paid leave, for their office bearers

What are the major Trade Unions in South Africa?

Most of the trade unions in South Africa are affiliated to one of the three main trade union centres. This means that if you join a trade union at work, no matter if you are in catering, nursing, mining, teaching or any other work sector, it will most likely be affiliated to a specific trade union centre.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is the largest of the three with a membership of 1.8 million and is part of the Tripartite Alliance with the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

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