SA government workers threaten strike within two weeks

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Unions representing 1.3 million South African government workers are threatening to strike within two weeks but the planned action is unlikely to disrupt the soccer World Cup, which heads for its final on Sunday.

The state employees are the latest workers to threaten industrial action that could have disrupted the world’s largest sporting event staged for the first time on African soil, embarrassing President Jacob Zuma and his government, Reuters reports.

But the unions said on Monday it may take two weeks to mobilise the workers and they still hoped for a resolution to the dispute. “We are left with no other option, but to consider the most severe option to us, which is strike action,” said John Malukele, chief negotiator for the union federation COSATU.

Fourteen unions affiliated to the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have threatened to strike. “It can be within two weeks, all depends on when we can get a mandate from the five teacher unions that will return to school on July 13,” Malukele said.

The unions said the workers, including nurses, police officers, teachers and other government officials such as immigration staff, turned down a 6.5 percent wage raise. They are demanding an above inflation salary increase of 8.5 percent and a doubling of housing allowances to 1,000 rand a month.

Labour unions have used the World Cup to bargain for higher wages which analysts warn could in the long run ruin the country’s ability to attract investment and create jobs as it recovers from recession.

In a separate dispute, South African unions on Sunday dropped a threat to strike at power utility Eskom this week after receiving a higher wage offer, ending concerns about electricity supplies during the tournament.



Pic: Striking rail and port workers demanding a 15 percent increase in salary march through the Durban city centre May 12, 2010. Source: Reuters