The role of workers' unions in South Africa - statement by Mr Malibongwe Luyenge on behalf of the UDM Youth Vanguard in Gauteng (4 May 2010)

We have just participated in the Workers Day celebrations and still our workers are suffering the same prejudices. We still witness strikes by poorly paid workers, we still read of the abuse of farm workers. This begs the question: What have the unions actually done for South African workers?

At the heart of the South African promise is the hope of upward mobility; that if you are accountable, if you improve on your ability to be employable and if you work with dedication and dignity you will surely move into areas of more responsibility and greater income.

But at the other end of the spectrum are the unions, who have to help our workers and bargain on their behalf. They remain stagnant whilst businesses have outsourced, downsized and automated - the unions have done nothing but watch. The unions have not been honest with their members.

Whilst managers ask and answer the question of an increase in shareholder value, the unions do not seem to do the same for their members. The unions should be fighting for new training opportunities as well as retraining; prospects for education; black economic empowerment deals that benefit more than just a select elite.

The sad fact is that salary increases are always a false promise; if the demand is too high above inflation it is never justifiable. An informed union will know that many companies are willing to spend on training and education; mainly because of government incentives but also because it had a direct and positive effect on the quality of service and product.

Union members need more than just to pose for a salary increase, they need to ultimately live the life they have earned and unions need to evolve to deliver on these member needs.