The National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) congress collapsed at the weekend after two days of clashes that culminated in violence among delegates.
The federation has had to postpone the congress to a later date, but there is confusion about when and how it would be held.
Tension between members who attended the three-day congress last week grew over the status of federation affiliate the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which was said to be "not in good standing" for not paying its affiliation fees.
Amcu was the only union relegated to observer status even though other affiliates had also failed to pay up. Amcu leaders and members took the Nactu leaders to task over this.
However, the sequence of events as related by Nactu general secretary Narius Moloto and Amcu general secretary Joseph Mathunjwa differed.
Moloto claimed Amcu had failed to pay the R2 per member fee for three years and only resumed doing so in October 2016 without first settling its outstanding debt.
"For 10 months, you have paid consistently, and we are not disputing that, but they had not settled their debt. I wrote a number of letters to them, reminding them that they must make sure they are in good standing, but if they are not, in terms of the provisions of the constitution of Nactu, they can’t have delegates at the congress," he said.
"They can only have observers because all affiliates, whether you are in good standing [or not], get an opportunity to have observers," Moloto said.
Mathunjwa said the federation was well aware of its commitments including to the Farlam commission of inquiry and Marikana Trust Fund on which the union had spent millions of rand. This had led to inconsistencies in fee payments.
He said when issues came to a head at the congress on Friday, Amcu offered to settle the outstanding debt it valued at R300,000 on the spot, but that failed to defuse tensions.
"We produced... proof of payment to say we had paid this balance. Moloto wanted to clarify the payment," said Mathunjwa. "He then decided to say no, the congress must collapse because Amcu is not in good standing, although we paid and there are unions that have not serviced their payment agreements and were considered to be in good standing."
Amcu is Nactu’s largest affiliate and was one of the unions lobbied by the newly launched South African Federation of Trade Unions.
Mathunjwa said it was a concern that Nactu had singled out his union, given that it had been instrumental in saving the federation from serious financial strain when it joined.
Moloto said the congress disruption seemed to be deliberate, adding that Amcu was in "silent competition" with Nactu.
Mathunjwa said the union would reflect on their resolution to join Nactu.