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South African Public Servants Strike Continues Amid Confusion

South African public servants have rejected the government's latest pay offer, but union leaders have hinted that could change. The strike continues to cripple government services, particularly education and health services.

There is confusion about how serious public service unions are about their rejection of the government's latest wage offer of a 7.5 percent pay rise, and a $110 housing allowance. The general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Zwelinzima Vavi, said the decision was overwhelming.

"And the overwhelming majority of them have rejected the government, and therefore the strike continues from their point of view," said Vavi.

But then the National Health and Allied Workers union said they had not fully polled their members. Vavi too appeared to suggest union leaders had come to the realization the government was struggling to identify the funds for its latest offer.

"We know that message and we know it has been there forever," added Vavi. "But also we know that government has been pushed and has been forced to scrape to the bottom of wherever they are taking the money from. But we also know everything else."

Public Services Minister Richard Baloyi says the government will have to cut other expenditures, saying one area would be to freeze planned new appointments. Unions have complained important services such as health and education are struggling to fulfill their mandate because there are too many vacancies.

Last year the salary increase for public servants was higher than the inflation rate; and this year, with inflation hovering between three and four percent; it will be more than double. Tony Twine, director of Econometrix, tells VOA that ratings' agencies are warning that if it continues, this trend will be very dangerous for the economy.

"It is what happens if we have four or five years of government wage increases at double the rate of inflation," said Twine. "That is when the ability to continue to service that expenditure on salaries and wages could become a genuine problem."

Meanwhile, workers in the motor manufacturing and related service industries are also out on strike, demanding a 15 percent pay hike. The employers have offered six percent.