September 16, 2004

Public sector workers on strike

Hundreds of thousands of South African public sector workers went on strike in the largest industrial action witnessed in the last decade. The workers, including teachers, nurses and policemen from eight public sector unions, had rejected a six percent wage increase offer by the government, demanding a seven percent rise. Earlier, the unions had rejected a final proposal from Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi to form a task team to resolve the dispute. Besides the seven percent pay increase, the unions are demanding a universal medical aid and housing allowance, with a review of a pay progression system that links salaries to inflation for the next two years.
According to the South African Democratic Teachers' Union, 700.000 public sector workers, almost half of them teachers, stayed away from work. Patrick Craven, a spokesperson for the country's labour federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), said between 50.000 and 100.000 workers marched in the capital, Pretoria, in a "show of unprecedented solidarity across the board". Teachers were also seen outside private schools in Johannesburg with placards proclaiming "Save our teachers" in a show of support for striking educators. Public sector workers took part in 25 marches in major cities and towns across the country. Madoda Mxakwe, a spokesperson for the department of public service and administration, said that the strike action had no impact on the critical services - health, correctional and police -, only large numbers of teachers stayed away. Trade union officials told that following the show of strength in the strike action, government had indicated it was willing to negotiate.
South Africa's public sector employs 1.1 million people, of which a million are unionised. The current wage dispute began in April this year, with government offering a 4.4 percent increase, against the union's demand for a 12 percent hike. (IRIN)

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