SA’s “strong unions” are often cited as one of the reasons why we battle with an unemployment rate that reached 27.5% in the third quarter. It’s much higher if those discouraged from seeking work are included. The argument holds some merit. Labour laws give unions significant power in the workplace, and bargaining councils and the extension of agreements to non-members – often smaller companies – are often blamed for the lack of job creation by the manufacturing industry in particular. South Africans are also used to lengthy and violent strikes – recent examples include the deadly stoppage in the plastics industry, and the ongoing one at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations, which easily creates the perception that the unions hold all the power and should be cut down to size. More should certainly be done from a legal perspective to limit lengthy strikes and prevent violence. But is our problem really that unions are too strong? An argument could be made that our unions are, in fact...

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