Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi File picture: Neil Baynes

Johannesburg - Trade unions in South Africa are not meeting workers' needs, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Friday.

“Unions are in a state of paralysis,” he said at a Fawu congress in Johannesburg.

“The workers' issues are being sidelined even by Cosatu itself.”

Wearing a red jersey, black pants and a Palestinian scarf, Vavi addressed the Gauteng regional congress of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu).

The numerous Fawu members, dressed in the union's red T-shirts, sang and danced as Vavi made his way to the podium. Vavi swayed and sang along.

Vavi said 38 percent of workers joined unions because they wanted to be protected from unfair dismissal, while a further 33

percent joined because they wanted to improve their income.

“If unions are unable to deliver on this, then they don't deserve the union fee that workers pay them.”

He said trade unions were in “a state of paralysis” as most workers did not belong to one.

“Seventy-one percent of those employed do not belong to a union.”

One of the reasons for the decline in union membership was that unions placed too much focus on politics and not enough on issues facing the union itself.

“We can't just blame government for this. The unions are also to blame as they are unfocused.”

Despite this, workers needed unions because “the working class is in dire straits, it is divided and weakened”, Vavi said.

Cosatu itself faced divisions.

“It is a war between those who have something and those who have nothing.”

In order to “continue the fight for workers” unions needed to be rebuilt.

“This is to prevent a situation like Marikana repeating itself,” he said.