September 7, 2010

Strike suspended for 3 weeks

Public workers have returned to work after union leaders agreed to suspend the three-week national strike. However, the unions warned that they would resume mass action if a suitable pay deal is not struck in the next 21 days. In a joint statement, more than 20 unions portrayed the move as a victory, saying the government had raised its 5.2% wage increase to 7.5%. The unions have been holding out for 8.6%. They said: "Labour has decided to suspend the strike and this does not mean we have accepted the state offer." He also said Cabinet ministers and top officials should forgo their own pay raises. "Our demands are genuine," he said. "The inequalities in this country are very vast, and they need to be closed."

The strike put a strain on the historic alliance between the African National Congress and the labour movement, which helped propel Zuma into office. Some have expressed disappointment at Zuma's failure to reward them and speculated that he could be vulnerable to a leadership challenge.

The last offer made by government includes a 7.5 percent salary increment and a R800 monthly housing allowance. Unions have demanded an 8.6 percent increase and a R1000 housing allowance. The latest offer had been rejected by rank-and-file workers before but the union leadership suspended the strike anyway to give time to explain the offer to their members.

The government also emphasised it would not pay workers for the days they were on strike. "The no-work, no-pay policy will be implemented and we are now collecting information on who was not at work," government spokesman Themba Maseko said. In South Africa, strikers are not compensated for missed work days by their unions and some have already forfeited nearly three weeks of pay. Maseko also said the government wanted to resolve the matter soon. "There is no confusion from our side. The 21 days is for unions to consult their members and explain the offer. We want to resolve this matter as soon as possible and hope to hear from the unions before the 21 days." (Business Day/SADOCC)

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