COSATU warns of public sector strikes


South Africa‘s powerful trade union federation COSATU is warning of a public sector strike unless the government fulfills promises it made in a 2007 wage deal.

COSATU, an ally of President Jacob Zuma, says it has called an urgent meeting with several cabinet ministers before a three-day meeting of South Africa‘s new cabinet next week, Reuters reports.

“Frankly we’re sitting on a time bomb that may explode at any time,” COSATU said in a letter addressed to ministers of health, public service, education, justice, social service, correctional services, police and finance.

Doctors have held strikes this year in protest against the government’s failure to implement some aspects of the wage agreement reached nearly two years ago, and other health workers have threatened walkouts in solidarity.

“We call on the leadership of government at national level and provinces to act with necessary urgency to avert what is clearly a ticking time bomb,” COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said at a news conference.

Investors fear that COSATU, which backed the ANC in its landmark election victory last month, has gained influence over the party and believe it may pressure government.

The trade union federation, which says it has 1.8 million paid-up members, came close to derailing this week’s listing of mobile phone group Vodacom.

COSATU and the industry regulator launched a last-minute bid to stop Vodacom going public because it forms part of a deal that gives UK-based Vodafone control of the company.

The trade union body objected to foreign ownership of a major South African company and said it feared job losses. The deal enriched businessmen close to the former government of Thabo Mbeki, angering leftists.

The case has intensified fears of resurgent union clout under Zuma and raised questions about South Africa‘s reputation as an investor-friendly emerging market.

* The 2007 public service strike was a violent affair that required the mobilisation of the South African Military Health Service to assist in hospitals and the deployment of soldiers under Operation Bata to protect government infrastructure.