Co-operatives explosion not sustainable – trade unionist


On the surface, the phenomenal number of cooperatives registered annually (20,000 so we are told) is impressive. But don’t be deceived by statistics, warns Sipho Chris Gina, deputy general secretary of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union.

He says there is a worrying trend: some – if not many – of the registered entities do not have their interests of their purported members at heart.

In his viewpoint on the current co-operatives scene, Gina says training the large numbers of co-operatives in the skills to run businesses and the democratic practices needed to sustain co-operatives is impractical, given poor training capacity in the country.

“It is our experience (shared with many others) that many of these co-operatives are simply the products of opportunism: either from consultants who have identified the creation of co-operatives as a lucrative new market for a quick buck; or from municipal local economic development departments, which are rushing to implement co-operatives from the top-down without providing longer-term support; or from co-operative members themselves who are after the immediate gratification of accessing particular government-grant funding and tenders, and do not intend to be sustainable.”

Gina’s other concern is bogus co-operatives set up by employers to circumvent labour legislation. “They have exploited a legal loophole that since co-operative members are self-employed, the wages and working conditions of co-operatives are matters for self-determination,” he says.

Bogus co-operatives are formed when workers are coerced by their employers or managers to sign on as members of co-operatives, or otherwise lose their jobs. Yet the enterprises that workers join have none of the substantive features or practices of a co-operative.

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