Trade Union Definition

An organisation whose membership consists of Workers & Union Leaders, united to protect & promote their common interests. The principle purposes of a trade union are to;

  • Negotiate wages and working condition terms
  • Regulate relations between workers its members and the employer
  • Take collective action to enforce the terms of collective bargaining
  • Raise new demands on behalf of its members
  • Help settle their grievances

History of Trade Unions in South Africa

Trade Unions in South Africa have a history dating back to the 1880's. From the beginning Trade Unions could be viewed as a reflection of the racial disunity of the country, with the earliest unions being predominantly for the white workers. Through the turbulent years of 1948 - 1991 Trade Unions played an important part in developing political and economic resistance, and eventually were one of the driving forces in realising the transition to an inclusive democratic government.

A Trade Union Movement is Born

The basis of today’s Trade Union Movement was laid in 1973 when about 100 000 workers in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal embarked on strike action to demand higher wages. Other workers joined in, engulfing Durban’s entire industrial heartland in strike activity.

The strikes soon spread to other major centres in the country, prompting the formation of a number of industrially demarcated unions, starting in Durban & Pietermaritzburg. Thus was born a national, albeit fragmented, Trade Union Movement in South Africa.

A Trade Union Movement is Born

According to the 2001 / 2002 South Africa Yearbook, there were about 17 Trade Union Federations at the end of 2000. This number could be higher though, as federations are not required by law to register and unaffiliated unions spring up all the time.

There are, however, Three Prominent Trade Union Federations with affiliates operating in the different sectors of the economy. These are the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), and the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu).

Although the Three Federations and their respective affiliates compete for membership, they co-operate in forums such as Nedlac. They have also embarked on joint campaigns, including demonstrations against amendments to the Labour Relations Act.

Head Office

1st Floor, 25 Owl Street, Milpark, Johannesburg

General Inquiries
0861 PROPAY (776 729)


Nina Wesseloo
0861 PROPAY (776 729)

Social Media