A trade union is a group of employees who join together to maintain and improve their conditions of employment.

The typical activities of trade unions include providing assistance and services to their members, collectively bargaining for better pay and conditions for all workers, working to improve the quality of public services, political campaigning and industrial action.

Nearly seven million people in the South Africa belong to a trade union. Union members include nurses, school meals staff, hospital cleaners, professional footballers, shop assistants, teaching assistants, bus drivers, engineers and apprentices.

Most trade unions are independent of employers but have close working relationships with them.

What trade unions do
Unions train and organise workplace representatives who help union members with the problems they face at work.

Reps provide support and advice and campaign for better conditions and pay.

Unions have brought significant changes to society, including:

a national minimum wage;
the abolition of child labour;
improved worker safety;
improving living standards by reducing the number of hours in the working week and encouraging a healthy work/life balance;
improved parental leave;
equality legislation;
better protection of migrant workers and a reduction in exploitation;
minimum holiday and sickness entitlements.


Unions have also made thousands of local agreements on issues affecting individual workplaces following consultation, negotiation and bargaining.