Former Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: MOELETSI MABE/THE TIMES
Former Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: MOELETSI MABE/THE TIMES

UNIONS that have rallied around the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) have finally set dates for the launch of a new trade union federation to rival the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Following a meeting of the "Nine Plus" unions last week, it was agreed that a mooted workers summit that could take place towards the end of March would also serve as a founding meeting for the federation, former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said during a briefing in Johannesburg.

This meeting would elect interim leadership that would "put in place infrastructure and plan for the first policy and elections congress that should take place on May Day of 2016", Mr Vavi said.

The formation of an alternative to Cosatu has been discussed since Numsa took a resolution at a special national congress to explore this option at the end of 2013. The union was subsequently expelled by the federation, a move endorsed twice through congresses held in 2015, as was Mr Vavi’s removal.

However, Mr Vavi said on Monday that these actions pointed to the end of Cosatu as a worker-controlled federation, adding that after two years of prevarication new structures to combat numerous social ills and SA’s current economic trajectory needed to be established.

Mr Vavi said there was "only one debate now, when is the workers summit" and this "can’t be a debate about what we do now".

"We can’t start moaning and moaning, can’t ... again spend endless hours articulating the type of crisis (SA is) finding itself in".

Numsa has previously received public backing from some Cosatu affiliates, although this support has varied.

Mr Vavi said the "Nine Plus" were still working with members of some unions that had, at least at the level of leadership, since distanced themselves.

Office bearers who participated in planning last week include the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), the South African Football Players Union (Safpu), the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) and Public and Allied Workers Union of SA (Pawusa) — all Cosatu affiliates.

However, they are joined by two splinter municipal unions — the Municipal and Allied Trade Union of SA (Matusa) and Democratic and Allied Workers Union of SA (Demawusa), newly formed South African Public Service Union (Sapsu) and the as-yet unregistered Finance Union of Workers (Fuwo).