New Tourism Trade Union

Frankly, I’m surprised it’s only happening now (although maybe I shouldn’t be, given the precarious state of the industry): the birth of a trade union for tour guides, coach drivers, porters, and other workers in the industry.

Although it is still busy with the process of registration with the Department of Labour, SATTGAWU (the South African Tourism, Tour Guides and Allied Workers Union) was launched late last year and, according to exco member Jorrie Jordaan (a national guide), its membership is increasing by the day.

“Our chairman, Mervin Wessels, is based in Cape Town, and we’ve got a strong presence in the Garden Route, so obviously we’re concentrating on recruiting in these areas, but it is growing organically, and we’ve already got members from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – although we don’t have a formal presence in those provinces,” he said.

He said that guides have no real standing outside of their registration in terms of the Tourism Act. But even that’s a questionable benefit – when last did you hear of anyone being prosecuted for working without  being registered? – and anyway, the Act makes no provision for employment benefits like medical aids or pension schemes.

“Guides work up to 18 hours a day – they’re up before their guests and they go to bed after them – but there’s nothing to protect us against fly-by-night tour operators who don’t pay us, against those who deduct tax and don’t pay it over to SARS, and so on,” said Mr. Jordaan.

South Africa boasts about 8,000 tourist guides, and Mr. Jordaan believes that only about 1% of them are in full time employment – the rest are freelancers. But so are most coach drivers, and many of the porters in the larger hotels, where the job is often outsourced.

“The drivers and the porters have the same problems as the guides – there’s no formal pay structure for them, and, like us, they don’t have access to group medical and pension schemes,” he said.

It’ll be a while before SATTGAWU can institute a pension fund for its members – like union registration, you need a fairly large body of people before it becomes worthwhile – but there’s certainly no shortage of issues that it needs to deal with in the meantime.

The tourist guide is the sharp point of the tourism industry – he or she is the person who can make or break the tourist experience, and so deserves to be properly rewarded and to know that there’s a future in their careers.

SATTGAWU will ensure that this will happen.

The Union doesn’t yet have a web site, so I’ve uploaded its constitution and application form to or you can download the constitution here and the membership form here.

For more information, contact Jorrie Jordaan – Telephone +27(0)44 620 2664; Cell +27(0)83 324 1947 or fax +27(0)44 620 2556.

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