New trade union Flair SA faces uphill battle in appealing to workers

Paballo Sambo and Advocate Ronel de Jager launched Flair South Africa in October 2018, promising to be a voice for professionals in all sectors of the economy irrespective of their gender and sexual orientation.


JOHANNESBURG – A new trade union with a focus on addressing labour inequalities, specifically with regard to gender discrimination and inclusivity in the workplace, is set to launch this week in Killarney, Johannesburg.

Co-founded by entrepreneur Paballo Sambo and Advocate Ronel de Jager in October 2018, Flair South Africa promises to be a voice for professionals in all sectors of the economy irrespective of their gender and sexual orientation.

But how Flair SA plans to rally workers together under one flag is unclear.

"We are all professionals and when we go to work, we are first and foremost professionals. But, it’s so strange that when you get there, you deal with other societal issues like discrimination, disrespect, and all we want as professionals is professional respect. And we are saying that’s all we are about, whether you are male or female, you are a professional foremost when you get to work," Sambo said on Wednesday speaking on The Eusebius McKaiser Show on Radio 702.

South Africa's union landscape is made up of historically politically aligned movements rallying behind a concept or an industry. But Flair SA doesn't immediately seem to target a specific industry or sector, which could pose a challenge to its lobbying efforts in different workplaces if it is to convince workers to sign up to the union.

New trade union Flair SA wants gender equity in workplace

Trade unions under labour federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) founded in 2017, were borne out of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa)’s dissatisfaction with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)'s leadership and it's relationship with the governing African National Congress, which ultimately led to the expulsion of Numsa from Cosatu in 2014.

Unions belonging to either Saftu or Cosatu have clearly defined logos, colours, industries they represent, funding plans, and a democratic system of electing representatives and national office bearers – something that Flair SA doesn't immediately have.

Flair SA also isn't clear on which economic system it supports, such as capitalism or socialism. They come across as apolitical on issues facing South African workers in a country which has a rich history of protest.

De Jager told McKaiser Flair SA was targeting all kinds of professionals that believed in equality, and they wanted to provide them with a platform to voice their concerns on labour related matters, including employment contract reviews, grievances, unfair labour practices and dismissals.

“We’ve got a support team looking after all the legal issues, any kind of labour disputes, whatever may come up, we are geared to be able to respond to such,” she said.

The union prides itself on its eight values: respect, dignity, kindness, equality, responsibility, accountability, fairness, and reasonableness that are at the core of its foundation.

But there is little explanation on their website about how they will focus on the working conditions of workers nor their desired outcomes.

“What we are trying to do as a union, specifically, is to get a seat at the table to be able to engage with those employers at an earlier stage so that we are able to intervene and hopefully through mediation, conciliation, and to understand what the employer and employee’s version is and get involved,” De Jager said.

It remains to be seen whether Flair SA will be able to reach an undefined desired membership in the context of South African trade unions. With a forceful union footprint in the country, Flair SA's leadership and ideas are not strong enough to help a South Africa with a 27% unemployment rate that is steadily increasing.

The union is expected to officially launch on Friday at Killarney Country Club.