Labour unions are for all workers!

construction_siteFirstly, before you read this article, I want to thank all the readers who have sent smses. They have encouraged and motivated us- when I write I often wonder if we are making a difference and your smses inform us. (Pictured: The construction site for a hotel where the foreman alleged

In their struggle for survival many Zimbabweans arrive into South Africa willing to do any work, desperate and seldom concerned that their labour rights will be respected. Many Zimbabweans across South Africa work on farms, construction sites, in the transport sector, as teachers and almost every other sector. Sadly the impact of desperate immigrants in fluxing into South Africa has strongly favoured certain unethical business practices resulting in exploitation and deliberate targeting of asylum seekers.

Most Zimbabwean workers initially are able endure even the most unacceptable working conditions, conditions completely banned under South African labour laws. They have come with nothing, often been abused and are trying to save their families from starvation.

For such a worker it is probably most difficult when employed by an individual or a small company that is unmonitored, unaccountable and isolated, thus workers such as house cleaners; small factory assistants, general workers and gardeners probably endure the worst abuse possible. These workers are often underpaid or unpaid, but their abuse sometimes even includes beatings, assaults and rape. In larger companies the situation is also terrible, but if they contact labour unions things could change a bit.

This week several Zimbabwean construction workers who were complaining because their foreman beat and abused them contacted us. They work for Realcor Holdings at a construction site in Cape Town, under unacceptable conditions.

Following a visit to the site, we contacted COSATU. COSATU have always been willing to assist us with workers issues and this provided a perfect opportunity to show their commitment. NUM, the union affiliated to COSATU that covers mine workers and construction workers, visited the Radisson hotel construction site where the group work. During their visit NUM made clear that they were mandated to assist all workers and that the efforts Realcor Cape had made to divide workers compromised the rights of all workers.

NUM proceeded to condemn the underhanded and illegal methods used by Realcor Holding to oppress and exploit their construction workers. These methods include assault, segregation, underpayment and intimidation. In their meeting NUM made an effort to include Zimbabwean asylum seekers and South Africans working at the site. The workers were greatly impressed by NUM and more than 50 membership applications from both Zimbabwean and South African workers have been submitted. The union is making huge steps towards integration among workers and will be representing them.

We believe that unions can help greatly in dealing with terrible methods used by companies such as Realcor. Workers have for too long suffered exploitation. The divide and rule tactics certain employers have used aim to exploit both South Africans and foreigners. These tactics also encourage xenophobia and cause tensions that are not limited to the work place. So please, if you have a major labour complaint, or you just want to get unionised, contact us or COSATU.

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