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Strike Will Threaten World Cup Projects in S. Africa


Up to 70,000 South African construction workers are expected to go on strike Wednesday in a move that will threaten timely completion of stadiums being readied for the FIFA 2010 World Cup.

The major sticking point between the National Union of Mineworkers, which represents South African construction workers is a demand for a 13 percent increase in wages.

Union spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka told VOA the employers' offer of 10 percent is simply not enough because it barely covers inflation.

"We would like to see a situation in which workers get real increases. From the 13 percent that we are asking for, the real increase is therefore [4.6 percent] which we believe will actually make a difference, particularly for workers who are earning as little as little as R2,600 [$325] a month," said Seshoka.

Many of the workers who are expected to lay down tools from Wednesday are working on stadium construction for the FIFA 2010 World Cup and also related projects such as Gautrain, the rapid-rail project that will service Johannesburg, Pretoria and the main international airport, O.R. Tambo.

Some South Africans have accused the unions of using the World Cup to pressure South Africa. There is also concern that over the long term, international investors will be reluctant to invest their money in South Africa if the country fails to deliver its World Cup project on time.

But Seshoka argued that primary responsibility for timely delivery of these projects rests on the shoulders of the employers.

"Why should it be workers and workers alone that are worried about the impact that the strike is going to have on investment that happens in South Africa. We [are] simply saying those that actually benefit from that investment that comes with a successful 2010 must actually ensure that our workers benefit, and the people of South Africa benefit," Seshoka said.

The employers in the dispute are members of the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors. Federation spokesperson Joe Campanella argues that 13 percent taken in conjunction with bonuses and other demands will make the overall package too expensive.

Campanella told VOA that if the strike goes ahead, the employers will do their best to ensure timely completion of all World Cup projects, but declined to make any commitments.

"Well these obviously very technical considerations and the deadlines are there and once the work resumes then one would hope to meet. I cannot really say more than that," he said.

Union and Federation representatives continue meeting in an attempt to find a resolution to the dispute.

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