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S. African Public Service Unions End Walkout


In South Africa, one the longest strikes since the end of apartheid has ended. Unions representing workers in public schools, hospitals and government offices said they would accept a government package of wage and benefit increases and return to work. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of public service workers say they have unanimously agreed to call off their four-week old strike.

The agreement came after a lengthy meeting Wednesday night.

The head of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, Willie Madisha, said afterwards that COSATU pressed for a better offer from the government, but that the 19 unions in the confederation achieved some major goals.

"The best thing that we have done, in particular the COSATU unions, we have been able to unite them and keep them in the strike action for three weeks," said Madisha. "That's one major victory."

The strike, one of the longest since the end of apartheid 13 years ago, closed most schools and crippled public hospitals across the country.

The unions originally sought a 12 percent increase in wages but lowered their demand to nine percent during the weeks of negotiations.

The government, which first offered an increase of six percent, last week made a final offer of 7.5 percent and said it was ending the negotiations. The offer included increases in various benefits.

Most unions said they will sign the agreement. But the largest teachers union (South Africa Democratic Teachers Union-SADTU) said it is suspending its strike but will continue to negotiate with the government.

The strike embarrassed the ruling African National Congress as it convened a major policy congress to prepare its platform for elections in two years.

ANC leaders acknowledged that progress toward eliminating poverty has been slow. But President Thabo Mbeki, in his opening speech, said it was unreasonable to expect to redress the inequities of 350 years of colonialism and apartheid in only 13 years.