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Responsibility of unions and individual South Africans emphasised at 2012 UASA Congress

The responsibilities of trade unions and individuals in South Africa were a recurring theme at the 2012 UASA Congress , which concluded this morning at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Facilities in Boksburg. The congress was themed “The future we want”.

Several speakers stressed that unions should make renewed efforts to lead their members and that individual South Africans should stop looking at government to take care of them, especially after  the tragic events at Marikana. For this education and training was essential.

Bernadine de Clercq of Unisa’s Bureau for Market Research (BMR) said that a lack of “financial wellness” lead to unsatisfied workers, many of whom were over-indebted. “Too many South Africans still believe government will look after them and don’t take responsibility for their own welfare,” she said. According to research conducted by the BMR South Africans between the ages of 17-34 and 65+ are most financially unwell, she said. De Clercq told delegates that government needs a focused policy to improve financial wellness for South Africans.

Koos Bezuidenhout, CEO of UASA, said after Marikana and against the background of the current labour unrest plaguing the country, unions need to be mindful and re-examine their own relevance. UASA needs to stay relevant for its members via the delegates who represented members at the congress.

Bezuidenhout reminded delegates that members pay membership fees in return for service excellence and relevant service. To make this a new reality into the future, he said UASA was going to focus on skills development and youth employment in a big way.

Economist Mike Schussler, who was the key note speaker at the formal dinner attended by VIP delegates on Wednesday night, said with only 4 out of 10 South Africans employed and a growth rate of 3,4% there would be no jobs for our children.

“This is why we must all accept responsibility for our own lives and hold people accountable for their actions, leaders as well as normal citizens. No-one has rights without someone having responsibility. South Africans have a responsibility to help, rather than demand, or in other words to act and not just talk. We have a responsibility towards our children, the people around us (including the choice to maybe NOT strike), management at work, friends, union, and ward councillors. Hold yourself and others to account and you will change your world. You and SA will do better,” Schussler said.

Trevor Manuel, Minister in the presidency in charge of the National Planning Commission, who spoke on Thursday morning, stated that no South African should live in poverty, but the truth was that 39% of South Africans live on less than R430 per month.

“We need to find a balance, fairness, between employers and workers. SA should be fair place for all,” he said, adding that this was the task of the National Planning Commission – to energise South Africa’s democracy by focusing on solutions and debate new policies,” he said.

“The NPC’s plans are not the plans of government, but of all South Africans,” Manuel said.

He agreed with earlier speakers that unions have an important role to play. “Currently workers are not being led properly, with trade unions merely running to catch up, instead of leading. Dialogue is needed before crisis strikes, so that there is trust when it is needed.

Manuel also touched on holding leaders accountable, saying when a councillor accounts to community, there is less room for corruption. “It is the community’s responsibility to hold leaders to account. The trust needs to be rebuilt. If South Africans do not hold leaders to account, they are bad citizens. There is no holiday in a democracy,” he said.

The work of the commission as relayed by Minister manual found favour among all Congress delegates who resolved to support the plan and to accept responsibility and accountability to build a better future for all South Africans and similarly, to keep everyone else responsible and accountable.