Trade Unions' Services & Member Satisfaction in Public Sector: A South African Scenario.

AuthorKgapola, Leslie


Trade unions are service providers. They, must, therefore, give employees enough reason to become and remain members. Trade unions as the embodiment of workers' aspirations owe a duty of care to their members and thus should at all times act in their best interests. The kind and quality of services being offered by the trade unions should be perceived by the members as sufficient and satisfactory. Trade unions, like any other organization that provides services are faced with imminent challenges of membership decline due to perceived poor services or the lack thereof. This paper aims to examine if there is a relationship between the quality of services and benefits being offered by unions to their members and member satisfaction.

Primary empirical data within the quantitative paradigm was collated from a random sample (N = 242) of members of the three major public service unions in South Africa using a survey questionnaire. Data was analyzed using the SPSS Statistics 23. The questionnaire was statistically significant with the overall scale reliability coefficient ([alpha] = .975). The findings revealed significantly high levels of union satisfaction (56%) compared with a meager dissatisfaction levels (16%); and significantly high union participation rate (61%) and union effectiveness (80%). The findings affirm union instrumentality, union effectiveness and member participation as antecedents of union commitment.

Why Employees Join Trade Unions?

Trade union objectives are proffered by Pons and Deale (1998), who list, amongst others, the following:

* To organize and unite all workers in all industries covered by its constitution into one, strong national union.

* To protect, advance, and promote the interests and welfare of its members.

* To strive for economic and social justice for all members by regulating relations and negotiating and settling disputes between members and employers.

* To resist retrenchment(s) and to fight for permanent employment.

* To set up effective collective bargaining mechanisms and fora.

* To democratize work processes.

* To oppose any policy, practice, or measure that will cause division or disunity amongst members or workers, and to fight to eradicate all forms of discrimination (e.g., racism and sexism).

* To promote, support, or oppose, as may be deemed expedient, any proposed legislation or other measure affecting the interests of their members.

* To provide legal assistance to members in matters of employment or in furtherance of any of the objectives set out in its constitution provided it is not inconsistent with any stipulation in its constitution.

* To do such things as appear to be in the interests of members generally or of the union, and which are not inconsistent with the objects or any other matter specifically provided for in its constitution (Pons & Deale, 1998: 6-7).

Haberfeld (1995: 656) says, "one of the key questions in the study of labor unions is why workers join them." According to him, the variety of theoretical considerations can be grouped into six categories:

i. The first, and one of the most prevalent explanations, is the relationship between job dissatisfaction and the decision to join a union. According to this explanation, unions provide workers with a collective voice in communicating with employers to address sources of dissatisfaction.

ii. The second is a work-related utility consideration. For example, it is suggested that workers join unions in order to obtain job security and better employment conditions. This consideration, whether based on an economic utility model (mainly the expectation of higher wages), or a more general psychological model of instrumentalities, explains the decision to join a union--workers expect that joining a union will bring them greater utility.

iii. The third consideration can be viewed as a special case within the utility framework. Workers expect union membership to increase their non-work utility. Many unions provide their members with benefits that are not work-related, such as health-and life insurance, credit cards, and legal aid, all at below-market rates. Workers may decide to j oin such unions because they find these commodities and services attractive.

iv. The fourth consideration focuses on workers' political ideology. Workers join unions as a result of their political beliefs. In many countries, labor unions are affiliated with political parties.

v. The fifth consideration concerns the value workers place on collective action, an outlook that is assumed to be shaped by the socialization process. Those who believe in workers' solidarity join unions because they perceive trade unions as an effective instrument for collective action.

vi. The sixth consideration highlights the role of work-related and individual variables in the decision to join a union. Among the variables are gender, race, education, age, and certain work-related characteristics, such as unit size and industry. It is clear that some of these factors could be integrated with explanations described above.

In their endeavor to understand workers' motivation for joining unions, Schuler and Youngblood (1986) developed a model that contains three separate conditions that strongly influence an employee's decision to join a union, namely dissatisfaction, lack of power, and union instrumentality. These are discussed below.


Schuler and Youngblood (1986) state that management's behavior plays an important role in the employees' satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Employees' work dissatisfaction is a result of management's unrealistic expectations that cannot be fulfilled by designing jobs that fail to utilize the skills and knowledge of the employees, and fail to satisfy their interests and preferences; discriminative and unfair management practices; and management failing to tell employees that it would prefer to operate without unions, and that it is committed to treating employees fairly and with respect.

Lack of Power

In the event of an employee being unhappy or dissatisfied, attempts to resolve and improve the work situation will be made by the individual employee acting alone. "The degree of success of this individual attempt depends on two features of a job, that is, essentiality--how important or critical the job is to the overall success of the organization--and exclusivity --how difficult it is to replace the person" (Schuler & Youngblood, 1986: 550). A greater degree of essentiality and exclusivity is tantamount to greater bargaining leverage, which can be used to coerce the employer to change or improve the situation. Low job essentiality and exclusivity will cause the individual attempt to fail. In most instances, the majority of workers are left with no choice but to join trade unions, given their low job essentiality and exclusivity.

Union Instrumentality

Schuler and Youngblood (1986) explain union instrumentality as follows:

Just as employees can be dissatisfied with many aspects of a work...

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