The trade union UASA disagrees with Adcorp’s statements that all trade unions lost membership since 2006 and that unions are experiencing a “growing crisis”.
Adcorp's labour market analyst Loane Sharp said in a statement yesterday that trade unions lost 129 424 members since 2006, translating to a loss of R95 773 760 per annum in membership dues and total membership falling from around 3.5 million to around 3.3 million.
UASA’s membership has remained stable over the past few years, and the union certainly does not experience the conditions described by Sharp. This is despite the fact that significant numbers of members are lost due to retrenchments and liquidations. Fortunately, the members so lost are replaced by new members joining the union.
What is true, however, is that UASA seems to have a steadily ageing membership profile, probably due to a changing labour market.
Young workers are active in a different work environment, with many accepting contract work instead of opting for full-time employment in large corporations. As a result the younger workers are more difficult to organise. When they do work for large corporations, they don’t stay there for their entire careers anymore; it has become quite acceptable and even desirable to change careers and companies several times in their working lifespan, once again making it difficult to organise them as a group.
One of the most important reasons for a decline in union membership may be the public’s perception of trade unions. Violent strikes, unrealistic demands for higher pay and protest actions are contributing to a negative public opinion of unions and are becoming less palatable for young, modern workers.
For this reason UASA regularly updates its philosophy and vision to stay relevant to its members in a changing work environment, and to draw and keep its members.