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1 Million South African Public Servants on Strike


Civil servants workers protest outside the Natalaspruit hospital demanding better salary increases in Johannesburg, 18 Aug 2010, after the Unions rejected the government's offer

Civil servants workers protest outside the Natalaspruit hospital demanding better salary increases in Johannesburg, 18 Aug 2010, after the Unions rejected the government's offer

The South African government says it will not increase its offer to public servants who embarked on a strike Wednesday. Schools were most severely affected on the first day of the strike.

Public Services Minister Richard Baloyi says the government's final offer of a 7 percent pay raise plus a monthly housing grant of $95 will cost nearly $700 million (five billion rand), money it will have to find by cutting other expenditures.

"It is not a final position out of choice. It is a final position out of affordability. In fact even this offer is not affordable, because we definitely have to reprioritize. The issues that I talked about there, in no time we will address the nation about how we are going to get this five billion [rand]," said Baloyi.

The government will sign the offer on Thursday and, according to regulation, will implement it after 21 days. Even so, unions are adamant they will not settle for anything less than an 8.6 percent pay raise with a housing allowance of $135 per month.

What is affected?

Most teachers did not report for duty and students who went to school were left to their own devices. Government has made 40,000 study packs available for students, while those who have internet connections will be able to download study materials. The government has urged students to form study groups and asked for volunteers to help coordinate and run the groups.

Most government hospitals functioned normally, although there were some disruptions - including picketers turning away nurses and patients at one major hospital near Johannesburg. Nurses and doctors are prohibited by law from striking.

Courts were unable to function as court reporters and interpreters joined the strike.

What's next?

Unions say they will commence countrywide pickets and protests Thursday with some unionists threatening to shut down major highways and to prevent people from going to work.

Minister Baloyi says the government will not tolerate such actions.

"As people enjoy their right to strike, we are not going to tolerate anarchy," said Baloyi. "It can't happen that you have a situation that where you enjoy your right, you then compromise the right[s] of other people. We therefore don't expect intimidation to take place."

Both unions and government officials say they will continue to seek a resolution to the wage dispute.

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