South Africa's government says a labor court has granted an injunction banning workers in essential services from taking part in a strike by more than one million public workers.

The government defines essential services as services that when interrupted, endanger the life, safety or health of the population, such as hospitals.

A government statement said the injunction issued Saturday also prevents striking workers from intimidating those still going to work and other citizens trying to enter public buildings.

On Friday, picketers were preventing people from entering hospitals and, in some cases, trying to interfere with surgeries.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said interrupting a surgery was equivalent to committing murder.

Saturday's statement said anyone who commits criminal acts during the strike will be prosecuted.

The strike, which began Wednesday, is the latest in a wave of labor protests to hit South Africa since May. This week's protest has involved hospital staff, teachers and other civil servants demanding higher pay.

The head of a union coalition (Chris Klopper of the Independent Labor Caucus) involved in the strike says no agreement was reached during talks Friday to search for a solution.

South Africa has put security services on high alert and convened special courts to hear cases connected to the strike.

Army medics and volunteers have also stepped in to help keep public hospitals functioning, and some of the sickest patients have been transferred to private hospitals for care.

Three years ago, public service workers in South Africa staged a crippling strike that shut down many schools and forced some hospitals to operate for weeks with minimal staff.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.