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South Africa Public Services Strike Enters Second Week, May Expand

The spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) told VOA public sector workers will continue to strike Monday to press their demand higher pay and housing allowance increases than the government has offered.

Patrick Craven said, despite promises, the government of President Jacob Zuma has done very little to begin another round of negotiations to resolve the dispute.

“We haven’t heard anything definite from the government. They say that they want to reach a settlement as quickly as possible, but they haven’t yet come forward with concrete proposals for meetings, for which (we) put in a new offer on the table. And, on the contrary, unfortunately, they are making a lot of quite provocative remarks about trying to force people back to work, which is obviously not helpful at all,” he said.

Craven also said that there is need for the government to present an urgent new offer which he said could be negotiated to enable workers to get back to work.

Last Wednesday, an estimated one million public service workers went on a one-day strike to press their demand for a wage increase.

South Africa President Jacob Zuma
South Africa President Jacob Zuma

The workers want an 8.6 percent pay rise, about double the current inflation rate of 4.2 per cent, as well as a 1,000 rand ($137.22) monthly housing allowance.

But, the South African government offered the workers a 7 percent increase and 630 rand ($86.44) monthly housing allowance.

Analysts say the government wants to avert a prolonged nationwide strike that could potentially impede South Africa’s burgeoning economy.

Observers say the ruling African National Congress Party (ANC), which draws considerable support from COSATU, will want to resolve the stalemate ahead of the party’s policy-setting meeting which is scheduled for next month.

Local media reports that one of the unions representing tire makers will also begin their strike Monday to demand higher wages.

Analysts say the strikes are putting pressure on President Zuma’s administration to deliver on promises of improved living conditions.

COSATU spokesman Craven the unions are open to positively engage the government to end the impasse over their pay increase demand.

“The unions have made it clear throughout this dispute that they are always ready to re-open negotiations and look at new proposals. But, this has not been yet forthcoming from the government, and so it is very frustrating for the union leaders. But, obviously, we will keep putting the pressure on behind the scenes to try to get some progress,” he said.