In this picture: Helen Wright, Mamokgethi Molopyane (guest speaker) and Dr Sarah Riordan
South African trade unions and federations are currently struggling to get to grips with the changing nature of work and the workplace following the dawn of globalisation in post 1994 South Africa.
The definition of work has changed with fulltime and permanent employment being replaced by part-time work, temporary employment and people hired by labour brokers.
Trade unions and federations should seriously ask themselves how they are going to stay relevant? There are the 4th Industrial revolution to think about and companies that are becoming more and more automated.
This is according to Mamokgethi Molopyane, founder and director of Creative Voodoo Consulting, recently speaking to participants of the Executive Development Programme (EDP) as guest speaker presented by USB Executive Development (Pty) Ltd at the Bellville campus. She is also a board member of the National Union of Mineworker's (NUM) research NPO - SATRI.
"Although labour has always been closely linked to the politics of the country, this is all about economics and stands outside of politics. It is about an economy that requires higher skills and are less labour intensive.
"Labour is however so occupied with politics and the politics within that they find it hard to be forward thinking and to prepare themselves for a changing workplace.
"Also, at the moment and with the current reality, proximity to the ruling party has not yielded as much significant results as leaders in organised labour has hoped for," Molopyane said.
There are currently 192 registered trade unions in South Africa, representing less than 25% of the country's labour force. At the same time there are 3 federations (Cosatu, Fedusa and Nactu) within Nedlac, representing 61 trade unions.
The newly founded federation Saftu is believe to represent 700 000 employees and has applied for Nedlac recognition.
"The federation landscape is clearly wanting and in reality "organised labour" has become "disorganised labour."
The main instability lies to the left of the ideological spectrum with Cosatu and Saftu being archenemies while sharing the exact same socialist framework of thinking and with both taking the same views as far as government is concerned.
Through regaining their organisational strength, trade unions could play a more progressive role instead of being viewed as insiders that have been co-opted into the system.