​Newly formed Saftu loses its first strike bid at Nedlac

The newly established South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has lost its first application for a strike – a general stayaway sought at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), which would have coincided with Wednesday’s national day of action planned by opposition parties.

The failure to secure a section 77 certificate means Saftu’s potential affiliates – speculated to be 21 unions representing 700 000 workers – won’t be taking part in Wednesday’s protest at the Union Buildings.

To secure a section 77 strike notice (under the Labour Relations Act), which would protect workers from disciplinary action while they demonstrated, Nedlac needs to declare that there is a dispute between the stakeholders and that a solution to the federation’s concerns cannot be found.

The application to Nedlac was heard by business, government and labour representatives on Friday afternoon as tens of thousands of people took to the streets, calling on President Jacob Zuma to step down.

The application was based on “issues of jobs, the economy and the national minimum wage; the sell-out (national minimum wage) deal signed by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and bosses. The crisis in the education sector as a whole also informed the application,” according to Saftu’s convener, Zwelinzima Vavi.


The application was dismissed because the newly established federation could not demonstrate that government and business representatives had failed to intervene in the concerned areas.

Vavi said: “There was a dispute about whether there is a dispute. They refused to declare it.”

The federation is due to hold its founding congress at the end of this month. The movement is three years in the making and follows Vavi’s dismissal from Cosatu and the expulsion of South Africa’s largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, from the ANC-allied workers body.

Vavi told the Mail & Guardian that, unlike Cosatu, which is dominated by public sector workers – the federation would have a mix of industries.

“We’ve got a mix of workers in the private sector, manufacturing, transport, mining and construction. And we’ve got unions in the public sector – the biggest ones are the South African Policing Union and the National Union of Public Servants and Allied Workers.”

Some of the other notable unions include the Food and Allied Workers Union and the National Transport Movement. The federation is also understood to be wooing popular unions such as the platinum mining majority union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

Vavi said Saftu had already started campaigning on issues such as #OutsourcingMustFall – a movement advocating for the permanent employment of outsourced workers at universities and in the state.

The federation, he said, would also take up the campaigns started by the Unite Against Corruption movement, an umbrella body set up two years ago to coalesce civic organisations, unions and citizens into a strategy to fight corruption.

But its strongest drawcard is its independent nature, he said.

“[Saftu] is independent but not apolitical. It is truly worker controlled and democratic and not ‘sloganising’ over the issues. Saftu is truly fighting and militant,” Vavi said, adding that the federation’s position towards Zuma is crystal clear.

“That’s why we put in a section 77 application. Because if we do nothing about Zuma, we will see unemployment double. We will see half of the population living in poverty in no time. Zuma represents no ideology, he’s just acting as a criminal,” Vavi concluded.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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