March 1, 2022 marked a very important day for the workers of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) and Community Work Programme (CWP) in the public sector when Maanda-Ashu Workers Union of South Africa (MAWUSA) was registered. Closing a gap left by existing trade unions in organising precarious, contract and informal workers. After years of struggling to have their voices heard, labour rights recognised and to be unionised under existing unions, these workers organised themselves to raise their issues through letters, pickets and fully-fledged strike action to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and Luthuli House the ANC Head Quarters. Within this struggle the employers did not really recognise them as they were not a legally registered entity. This then prompted an urgency to formally organise outside of the traditional norm of organising formal and permanent workers as explained by the formally installed interim committee Secretary General Velaphi Ndaba. This union is targeting only the EPWP and CWP workers in the public sector and has a potential membership of 500 000 members. Within the first two weeks of registration the union had already organised more than 6000 members in Gauteng alone.
The focus of trade union organising in South Africa is mainly on formal sectors. Informal sector workers either become associates or just partners on common struggles. Although efforts have been made by union federations like COSATU to represent the views of informal and vulnerable sectors, very little effort has been invested in organising informal sector workers into existing trade unions.
MAWUSA thus exploits an important niche in trade union organising by organising casual workers. On 26 April 2022, the day before Freedom Day, members of the MAWUSA founding interim structures from all provinces convened for the first time formally under the banner of MAWUSA. They discussed how to build and formalise the union’s structures nationally and how to democratically install national representatives of the union among other things. From this first official meeting 6 representatives were democratically elected to lead as the interim national structure consisting of President General: Robert Nwendo, Deputy President General: Nomagugu Mokgosinyane, Second Deputy President General/Spokesperson: Simphiwe Hlafa, Secretary General Velaphi Ndaba, Assistant Secretary General: Portia Sechane, Finance Officer/Treasurer: Nkosinathi Shabalala. Twelve Trustees were also elected representing all provinces to form a fully-fledged national committee.
The launch was followed by a workshop on 27 April 2022, which included modules on how to use the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Labour Relations Act and Organising and Mobilising to further strengthen the union and represent the members’ interests.
FES SA is proud to have partnered with MAWUSA in this ground-breaking moment that has a potential to redefine how workers in informal and non-traditional work are organised. We look forward to seeing this union grow and formalise its structures to defend precarious workers’ rights and freedoms.