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Are Trade Union Employees A Precariat Class?

Publishing Date : 23 January, 2018

Author : MPHO MARUPING

Ironically, Trade unions which are pertinent workers vanguards have shamefully become perpetrators of sabotage, unsolidaristic tendencies and all assortments of abuses to their employees. In a quest to march capital and bureaucratic technocrats trade unions adopted more sophisticated schemes of running their organisations.


The establishment of operational offices, with well-staffed personnel, saw trade unions meeting their obligations and equally counteracting government and employer’s tactics. These offices had precise experts for the smooth running of organisational efficiency. Ultimately, these workers had to find themselves working under a hawk eye of trade union political wing.


Mind you, trade union political figures are not all blessed with the administration acumen, rather they have been elevated to their positions by elective congresses. Consequently, they are not comfortable working with employees likely to stifle their trade union political careers.


Trade union employees are gagged from raising workplace complaints ranging from unfair dismissal, workplace abuses, unfair relations, lack of salary increment and “intellect-threats.” The zeal, exuberance and stamina trade union leadership possess to stage fights against governments and employers are surprisingly loathed when exerted onto them by trade union employees.


Paradoxically, trade union employees are seen as wayward and insubordinate when questioning the decisions of the political leaders. Vocal, steadfast and assertive trade union employees are unfortunately targeted and lose jobs because of their precarious situation. Their numbers too are way far insignificant to raise voices that can win back their rights and/or even jobs.


Almost all trade unions in the country are premised on ideals of business trade union type, that is, trade unions that focus their existence on bread and butter issues, agitating for matters in the workplace and with less attention on issues of reproduction. Trade unions build their strength and political leverage by fighting for better conditions of service for their members.


Oddly, trade unions cannot initiate such arrangement for their employees to negotiate salaries using the same platform they do engage with governments and employers. For them bargaining council forums are a preserve for trade unions and governments/employers and not between trade unions and its employees. Trade union employees advocating for such platform may find themselves at the firing line of their jobs. They may still be viewed as bad apples by trade union leaders, and come with all mechanism to be dismissed from work.


Cases of workers abuses are rampant in trade unions world over. Cases of trade union leaders occupying influential positions went abuzz in newspapers because they have been more powerful to the extent of abusing office. Some have gone extra mile in elevating women to promotional positions without necessarily undergoing job evaluation, performance ratings or excelling in their duties. Those who are confident to resist abuses are subjected to ridicule, job-isolation and lack of job progression. They may find themselves being denied working space or even work without necessary resources.


Another quandary that most trade unions engage in are attached to embracing neoliberal tendencies, particularly business-type trade unions. Contemporary labour organisations discredit neoliberal policies that are propagated by countries in the Core, multinational corporations, The World Bank and International Monetary Fund. In the quest to maximise capital at the expense of labour, these international blocs have come up with mechanism to cut on expenses through the so called austerity measures.


Employment patters such as contract work, temporal work, flexi hour’s jobs, downsizing, restructuring, interns, call-centres, have replaced permanent work which is deemed expensive and counterproductive. Permanent jobs obligate employers to decent work requirements such as overtime allowance, leave days, gratuity, retirement package, medical cover, provision of occupational standards, and social protection.


Unfortunately, by adopting neoliberal inclinations trade unions ultimately subject their employees to similar ills which governments/employers perpetrate to their workers. When the government started the Government Voluntary Scheme (GVS) social activists, trade unions inclusive condemned the idea citing that as abusive and not addressing rising unemployment. Business supported the GVS with full idea that it cushions their enterprises against financial loses.


They embraced GVS with ulterior motives, knowing that temporal workers do not draw full employment status. They attract wage pittance and their conditions of service are inferior. Regrettably, some trade unions lured graduates to work as interns in their organisations. Also some went further to change their employees work contracts to renewal-type employment. This scheme was mainly used to tame their employees. The old adage that declares, “Trade unions are the worst employers” seems to be a perceptible occurrence.


Lastly trade union leadership are normally intimidated by employees who possess massive knowledge and skills that consequently unsettles the leadership. Instead of trade union activists appreciate knowledge amassed by employees, they come with mechanism to dismiss them.


I term this as “intellect threats” since razor sharp minded employees are reluctantly seen as panacea to organisational ills, ironically are seen to be a risk to the trade union leadership because they may furnish the rank and file with confidential and classified information. Employees may be seen to be unbefitting to work for the union for lengthy period of time. In some cases these employees may be transferred to regions that are away from political influence. Trade unions must fight for a Utopia working environment for every worker, where the ideal workplace laboratory are trade union offices and the larger community uses as a reference point.


Comrade Mpho Maruping writes from Kudumatse

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