South Africa: Turbulent Times for Trade Unions in a Difficult Economic and Political Environment


Riefdah Ajam is the general secretary of the Federation of Unions of South Africa, Fedusa.

The challenging conditions that existed over the past decade and longer have certainly set back the fight by trade unions for decent work and a living wage. But hard campaigning by organised labour has brought about some positive changes in the lives of many vulnerable workers.

In the wake of May Day 2022, it is clear the labour movement is experiencing turbulent times on a number of fronts. In particular, there are the job losses in an economy made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic in a society that is already recognised as the most unequal in the world.

Trade unions too, both internationally and locally, have lost ground over a number of years. Some of the contributing factors in South Africa have been a direct result of government's economic and industrial policies. The 1996 Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy in particular began a series of measures that led to economic growth, but where job creation was initially stagnant before the government's ongoing trade liberalisation saw millions of workers in the industrial sectors lose their jobs.

The periods of exploitative practices by labour brokers before...

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