Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. File photo: Matthews Baloyi

Johannesburg - Cosatu must go back to its reason for existing when considering its future in two weeks' time, general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Monday.

“Cosatu was not formed so that individuals can cultivate their political colours and end up in Cabinet positions.... We are here because of the wages,” he said in Johannesburg.

A recent survey conducted by the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) had found that 60 percent of members were unhappy with the wage settlements reached on their behalf, and the majority of those who were unhappy were in the private sector.

“So when you see what is happening at Marikana, don't be surprised when that thing spreads to other sectors of the economy... because only 40 percent of our members are happy with the wage settlements.”

He was referring to Lonmin's Marikana mine in North West, where 44 people had died in violence related to a wildcat strike.

Addressing Gauteng shopstewards, Vavi said despite the numerous strikes in the country, Cosatu had not succeeded in improving the base wage of its members.

This meant it was failing its members, as the survey found that at least a third of members joined a union to improve their wages and working conditions.

Discussion papers prepared for Cosatu's congress suggest the introduction of a national minimum wage in South Africa of around R4500 a month.

This is the amount a worker with five dependants needed each month to be able to afford food, education, transport and other basics, Vavi said.

He said 50 percent of South Africans earned far below that, with an average of R3200 a month.

“Now that's a disaster. We must relook the collective bargaining strategy.”

Marikana mineworkers, who are demanding R12 500 a month, deserved far more than that for the hostile conditions under which they worked, Vavi said.

Cosatu holds its national congress in Midrand from September 17 to 20.

Vavi said Cosatu was going into the congress “not in the best of space”.

Its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was “under attack”. He was referring to Marikana mine, where the violence had been blamed in part on a turf battle between the NUM and a new union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

The SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union's former president Ephraim Mphahlele resigned two weeks ago amid an investigation into his conduct, to join rival union, National Transport and Allied Workers' Union.

There was “division within the ranks” in the Chemical, Energy, Paper Printing, Wood and Allied Workers' Union, and the labour department was threatening to deregister the Communication Workers' Union, Vavi said.

Although Cosatu's membership had grown to 2.2 million, it had not achieved its goal, set in 2003, to have four million members by 2015.

Vavi blamed the problems on a lack of shopsteward training and leadership, and the neglect of worker education.

Cosatu needed to look at ways to attract younger members and more members in the domestic workers' sector, security industry, and agriculture, as union penetration there was low.

Cosatu was failing to create non-racial unions, Vavi said.

Eighty percent of Cosatu members were black, 14 percent coloured, four percent Indian, and one percent white.

“That's not good, comrades. We are not doing something right,” Vavi said, adding that this did not reflect South Africa's demographic breakdown. - Sapa