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South African Public Servants Back at Work

South African public servants have returned to work a day after unions suspended a bruising 3-week strike.

South African public servants have returned following a decision to suspend their crippling 3-week strike for 21 days for further consultation on a draft agreement. This is likely to include the government latest offer of a 7.5 percent pay raise, and a housing allowance of $110 per month.

But in making the announcement on behalf of the unions, Democratic Teachers' Union president Thobile Ntola said the decision is not an indication workers have lost the will to continue the strike.

"If the employer is not necessarily faithful on these current negotiations, there comes a time where we will deal with the employer and not consider anything," said Ntola. "That is the position. If the employer thinks that we are tired, we are not tired; we are prepared to do anything."

This is not the first time public servants have suspended a strike vowing to return to the streets if their members are unhappy with a draft agreement. In 2007 unions did the same, and while that strike was never formally terminated, it was never reinstated.

Some analysts say unions may be trying to save face by suspending and not terminating the strike because they failed to attain their goal of an 8.6 percent pay raise, and a housing allowance of $135 per month.

In addition to the pay and housing benefit increases, the unions will be briefing their members on government plans to even out contributions for medical insurance. The unions want across-the-board parity in these contributions.

In addition, unions are currently negotiating with government to suspend the no-work, no-pay rule for the strike.

The strike severely impacted government services, particularly the education and health sectors. It was marred by widespread intimidation and violence, quickly causing public support for strikers to wane.

Meanwhile, some 31,000 striking workers in the vehicle construction industry are continuing a week-long strike. They are demanding a pay raise of 15 percent, while the employers have offered 7 percent.

South Africa has an official unemployment rate of 25 percent.