Trade union membership in South Africa was declining at an alarming rate and currently standing at 23%, a meeting of BRICS member states was told in Muldersdrift, near Johannesburg on Wednesday.  The BRICS meeting is being attended by 5 member states namely, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa along with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), African Union as well as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia and Malawi as invitees.

Ms. Jahnie De Villiers, Director Labour Amplified who was making a presentation on promoting labour rights and reducing decent work deficits, a private sector perspective said, this dwindling union membership constitutes a real threat to social dialogue.

This is the problem for the employers and employees. Unionised work places have better and easier communication structures. Section 23 of South Africa’s constitution guarantees everyone the right to belong or form a trade union. Collective bargaining and social dialogue are a cornerstone of policy making; thus the existence of tripartite institutions like NEDLAC.

Turning to the future of work, she said workplaces are forever changing and this needs an agile policy environment. Decent work deficits happen in a policy vacuum. She said in 2022, a survey showed that two thirds of employees split their time between office and home. This presents challenges for the decent work environment.

Mr. Thembinkosi Mkalipi; Chief Director responsible for Collective Bargaining in the Labour Market Policy Unit of the Department of Employment and Labour said “In South Africa, lesser and lesser people are likely to be represented by trade unions and this is typical of the global situation. Trade Unions have been weakened and for decent work to be attained you need strong representatives of workers”.

Ms. Claire Harasty, Special Advisor to the Deputy Director for policy at ILO in Geneva, said, it is the responsibility of all ILO members including BRICS to promote, respect and realise the fundamental principles of the rights at work regardless of the fact they have ratified these. Ms. Harasty said “these rights reinforce each other. Without freedom of association, you cannot address the other rights.  Although all the BRICS countries have progressed in promoting the respect for the rights to work, more still needs to be done”. She said, all member states who have recently ratified the convention on the elimination of child labour, need to re-double their efforts to ensure that action follows their public declarations. This will, according to her, give teeth to the Durban Call to Action that was adopted in 2022 to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

For media enquiries, contact:

Teboho Thejane

Departmental Spokesperson

082 697 0694/


Issued by: Department of Employment and Labour

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