Cosatu to launch nationwide labour survey

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Wednesday said that it is to conduct a survey of workers, union members and non-members to get their views on the labour movement and how well it is meeting their needs.

South Africa’s largest union federation will be 20 years old on December 1.

The survey will be conducted by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (Case), with support from Cosatu’s National Labour and Economic Development Institute (Naledi).

This, the first scientific, national survey of workers’ needs and attitudes, will build on findings from recent smaller surveys and focus groups, including studies by the sociology of work programme at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Cosatu, however, said this will be the first survey that is large enough to give it a systematic picture of workers’ opinions.

The union federation said the survey will cover a sample of 3 000 workers in randomly chosen houses within randomly chosen working-class communities, to ensure an unbiased sample, which will be representative in terms of race and gender.

‘Listening’ campaign

The survey is part of Cosatu’s “listening” campaign.

“As we organise for the ongoing mass action on jobs and poverty, we have deployed national office bearers across the country to listen to workers in the workplace, workers’ forums and communities, to get a better picture of our members’ hopes, desires and needs,” Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said.

With almost two million members, Cosatu remains by far the largest union federation in South Africa.

“But we cannot afford to be complacent. We face huge challenges, which have changed the conditions under which unions work,” Vavi added.

“Today, our shop stewards and organisers, if they are to serve members properly, have to master complex legal skills. Many unions which grew very rapidly in the 1990s—doubling and tripling in size—have to work hard to consolidate this growth, and serve and educate their new members.”

Cosatu noted that trade unions’ main purpose is to give workers collective power—in the workplace, their industries and national policy debates. 

“We must protect workers every day in negotiations over pay and benefits, in grievances and disciplinary cases. So, we need to know how well we are meeting members’ expectations in all these areas.”

Vavi said that Cosatu’s principles of worker control and democracy ensure that its leaders basically know what their members want, but as in any large democratic system, communication might break down.

“The survey should help us check on what we learn in our daily interactions with members. Specifically it should help us understand why some workers don’t belong to a union—because they can’t find one, a dislike of unions, or a past experience of poor service.”

Cosatu is also posing questions to its members in the survey such as: Are national stayaways a good tool for the labour movement? Do workers know how to contact their union? What do workers want their union to prioritise in workplace negotiations—pay, benefits, employment equity, HIV/Aids or other issues?

Limitations

The survey does have limitations, Cosatu said, as the sample size is “fairly small”, primarily due to financial limitations.

“We will only be able to work in larger urban areas, although in every province. We are excluding workers from micro-enterprises. Major groups will be excluded, including farm, domestic, taxi and informal workers. From next year, focus groups will probe the views of these critical and most oppressed sections of the working class.

“The sample size also means we will be able to reach realistic conclusions only about national trends and in some larger metro areas. We will not be able to analyse the results for smaller towns, or for most occupations and industries.”

With the help of Case and Naledi, Cosatu said, it will analyse the results from January next year and present the findings to its ninth national congress in September next year.

Since the results will certainly be useful for a host of organisations besides Cosatu, the union federation will make the database available to other researchers.—I-Net Bridge