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Declining trust in trade unions - study

The HSRC survey found that fewer South Africans trust trade unions than in the past.

Cosatu briefs the media on the Lonmin Marikana tragedy on 24 August 2012. Picture: Stephen Grootes/EWN

CAPE TOWN - The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) has released a survey indicating that fewer South Africans trust trade unions than in the past.

The study found that while 43 percent of respondents trusted labour unions in 2011, only 29 percent of people said they trusted the worker organisations in 2012.

The HSRC also found that less than a quarter of the people surveyed trusted politicians in 2012.

The survey also measured the levels of distrust towards unions amongst different race and class groups.

The most significant increase in distrust levels was noted in the working class group, which rose from 21 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2012.

The country's trade unions and federations have come under severe criticism over the last 12 months, especially over the circumstances which saw 44 people being killed in Marikana, outside Rustenburg, during an illegal wage protest at platinum miner Lonmin.

Independent labour analyst Gavin Brown says while the Marikana tragedy acted as an accelerator, there were significant levels of distrust even before the strike.

Referencing a proposed go-slow by teachers' union SADTU, Brown says that the inconvenience and disruption caused by public servants is actually directed against them.

"The employer is the state and we are the taxpayers. The victims in the case of the SADTU strike is going to be children. It is that type of thing that makes the trust decline."

Given South Africa's history and the movement of union officials to become figures of government, a level of distrust in the motives of people has increased.

"Cosatu's problem, in particular, is that it alienates so many different constituencies by the things that it says, by the things that some of its members do, by the politics within the organisation that really make it less of a social driving voice than just a very noisy place in which the motives of people cannot always be trusted," says Brown.

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