Union plunder should not be tolerated

Johannesburg – The widespread looting of billions of workers’ investments by elected leaders of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu)  – as reported in this newspaper today – is a clear demonstration of how trade union investment companies have become a sophisticated scheme used to amass enormous personal wealth by those entrusted to look after workers’ hard-earned money.

It is perhaps important to reflect on why union investment companies were established in the first place.

Among others, some of the main reasons for setting up these investment companies was to improve ordinary workers’ lives and those of their families through benefits such as pension funds and the provision of bursaries for dependents.

These companies were never meant to make ordinary workers or union bosses rich.

They were set up to assist workers to find their way into the economy dominated mainly by white capital and the few black capitalists who emerged in the wake of SA’s new democratic project.

Despite strong contentions that these investments could weaken the power and influence of unions on recalcitrant big corporations, many labour unions forged ahead on the grounds that they would not only provide additional independent income, but would also provide employment opportunities for retrenched workers in their respective industries.

One of the compelling arguments at the time was that these companies would offer ideal models for empowerment as opposed to that which has, until this present day, appeared to empower only a few politically connected individuals.

Instead of achieving these objectives, these investment companies have transformed certain union bosses into overnight millionaires and have sadly triggered bitter squabbles as union bosses fight to control these resources to enrich themselves.

Poor leadership and shady business dealings have become the order of the day as money is blown on directors’ salaries and bonuses, as well as financial mismanagement like outsourcing photocopiers (in the case of Ceppwawu) that would not cost even R20 000. This while workers struggle to make ends meet.

The sorry state of Ceppwawu Investments (CI), which was once a thriving entity with more than R10-billion, but was stripped of  R8-billion in just two  years, must not be allowed to stand.

It is not only a serious indictment on the union itself, but also on Cosatu (its mother body).

We agree with CI administrator Thulisile Mashanda that a forensic investigation into the CI’s affairs, as well as why the Ceppwawu Development Trust has failed to operate to date, is urgently needed.

Criminal charges must follow should investigations uncover any corruption by the directors of these investment companies.

It is perhaps time that only independent professional and operational staff who are guided by their respective professional ethics should be placed in charge of running the business affairs of these unions as recommended by Mashanda.

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