Union membership falls as strikes rise

10 August 2011 - 12:07 By Sapa

Membership of trade unions has declined although the number of work days lost to strikes has increased, according to the latest Adcorp Employment Index.

Membership of South African trade unions had declined from 4.3 million in 2000 to 3.2 million in 2010, said Loane Sharp, Adcorp's labour market analyst, in a statement.

This trend was "out of sync" with the surge in strikes and work stoppages reported so far this year.

In 2010, South Africa lost 14.6 million strike-induced work days.

This year, this figure would increase by 22 percent to 17.8 million, Sharp said.

"Already strikes are significantly ahead of 2010 levels on a year-to-date basis and, worryingly, 68 percent of strikes have been in the private sector.

"In previous years, strike actions were largely restricted to the public sector," he said.

"The unrest and conflict associated with strikes in South Africa ranked eighth-worst in the world in 2010, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the world's foremost business research foundation."

Sharp said South Africa would have nearly double the number of strikes and/or workdays lost due to strikes as it had at the height of apartheid in the late 1980s.

This contrasted with the decline in trade union membership.

"Over the past decade the number of unionised workers, as a proportion of all workers, has declined from 35.6 percent (about one in three) to 24.7 percent (about one in four)," Sharp said.

"This represents a loss of income to trade unions of approximately R82.5 million a month, equivalent to R990 million a year."

Sharp said proposed new labour laws which would encompass affirmative action, temporary employment and union membership would reduce South Africa's labour market efficiency by 16.5 percent in 2011.

It fell by 8.1 percent in 2010.

"Extrapolating these figures, by 2013 South Africa will rank the lowest-performing economy in the world in terms of labour market efficiency, as measured by the WEF."