Unions must stand on their own feet

11 June 2007

Trade unions should stand on their own and deal with the burning issues of the workers' rights instead of spending too much time on political matters.

So says Mpfariseni Budeli, who graduates with a PhD in common law, in her thesis, Freedom of Association and Trade Unionism in South Africa: From apartheid to the democratic constitutional order.

Described by her supervisor, Professor Evance Kalula, as "shy but hard-working", Budeli, 28, argues that union federations such as COSATU should divorce themselves from politics and focus on issues affecting workers, such as empowering new leaders about strategies.

"It is important to have a trade union that can stand on its own."

Budeli said freedom of association is a fundamental right of unions, as enshrined in the constitution. However, the apartheid regime prevented those rights from being exercised, prompting the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency dealing with labour matters, to exclude South Africa in 1963.

Budeli added that unions were instrumental in the demise of apartheid by furthering the agenda of the banned political parties.

A former shop steward at the University of Limpopo where she is a lecturer, Budeli called for an international labour federation to deal with globalisation and the violation of workers' rights in countries such as Zimbabwe, among other issues.

Budeli added that the South African Labour Law is more advanced than those of many African states, "and those countries can learn a lot from us".

Born in Venda, Budeli studied law at the University of Limpopo, obtaining a master's degree with distinction.

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