In an unexpected move the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has requested a meeting with its rival, Cosatu, to discuss "issues of common interest".
The organisations have been at odds since the emergence of Saftu under the leadership of former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Cosatu’s largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), also broke ranks to become the backbone of the new federation.
Most recently the two have been involved in a public row over the "exclusion" of Saftu from the National Executive Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), where the national minimum wage bill, which Saftu protested against in a national strike, was drafted.
Saftu’s lack of presence at Nedlac has robbed it of an opportunity to take part in formulating labour-market policy.
Business Day understands the meeting requests came after informal talks between leaders of some Cosatu affiliates and those of Numsa. Sources said the meeting request was discussed at last week’s Cosatu central executive committee.
It is understood that some Cosatu affiliates objected to the invitation, saying that a meeting would legitimise Saftu and its affiliated unions in the eyes of their members.
Cosatu unions have been fighting off Numsa in sectors where they organise since its scope was extended in 2014, allowing it to organise outside of the metals and engineering industries to include mining and transport, among others.
Encroaching on the sectors of other Cosatu affiliates was one of the reasons Numsa was expelled from the labour federation in 2014.
Saftu spokesman Patrick Craven said on Monday Saftu wanted to discuss the broader questions of "inequality, unemployment, privatisation", which were issues affecting workers across the political spectrum.
Although Cosatu has struggled to realise its decades-old resolution of "one country, one federation", advocating the unity of all workers, this call was again emphasised during the 2018 Workers’ Day celebrations in Port Elizabeth.
Even senior ANC national executive committee members urged the federation to reconsider its decision on Numsa and Saftu, saying it was in the interest of the party to have a united labour movement.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also joined the call for unity in his maiden May Day speech.
Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said the federation would respond to Saftu when its general secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali, returned from the International Labour Organisation conference in Geneva next week. "We have entertained the idea, and we are not hostile to it," he said.