More than one million South African state workers seeking higher wages will go on strike a senior official with the country’s biggest labour federation COSATU said.
About the same number of public sector workers held a one-day strike last week but the unions say Wednesday’s action is the start of a prolonged strike.
South African public sector unions on Tuesday rejected a revised government pay offer and said they planned a mass strike from Wednesday that will bring public services to a halt in Africa’s largest economy.
Analysts however expect a deal to be reached before a coalition of unions, representing 1.3 million civil servants including police, customs officials, teachers and health workers, stages a prolonged stoppage that could damage commerce and trade.
“From tomorrow there will be a total shutdown and the beginning of a protracted strike and we will only stop when government responds,” said Thobile Ntola, president of the SADTU teachers’ union, a part of the labour coalition.
The strike threat by unions in the country’s largest umbrella labour group COSATU increases pressure on the government to improve its terms or risk what could be the worst strike by state workers for three years. Economists worry that whatever deal is reached will swell state spending as the government tries to bring its deficit down from 6.7 percent of gross domestic product.
Wednesday’s work stoppage is unlikely to affect the economy but will disrupt schools and medical centres as thousands of teachers and workers in the health sector go on strike. Other unions are expected to consult their members on whether to stage work stoppages.
“Our members have rejected the offer but we will still need to consult them because if we strike, the ‘no work, no pay’ rule applies,” said Chris Kloppers of the Independent Labour Caucus which represents about 300,000 state workers. Last week the government offered to increase the monthly housing allowance to 700 rand from a previous offer of 630 rand, but refused to increase its wage rise offer of 7 percent.
The housing allowance alone would be equal to about 1 percent of government spending. Unions and government negotiators are due to meet late on Tuesday when workers will again push their demand of an 8.6 percent pay rise, more than double the inflation rate, and 1,000 rand for housing.
The government had previously said it could not afford to increase its offer and has threatened to unilaterally impose the increase.
“Should they dare do that, that will be a war. We will report for duty but will do no work and the public service will come to standstill,” said Ntola.
There is pressure on both sides to reach a deal.
A one-day strike last week did little to hurt the economy. Union sources said there are cracks in the labour coalition with some groups looking favourably on the latest offer, which could diminish the impact of any potential strike.
The ruling African National Congress has a long-standing alliance with unions forged in the fight to end apartheid and has often struck deals tilted in their favour so as not to lose votes from a traditional base. But the government also has said it cannot afford the demands and will be forced to cut spending elsewhere.
This could erode support for President Jacob Zuma’s government, which has already faced protests from the poor, who say it has not done enough to supply them with electricity, running water and better schools.
A mid-grade public sector employee makes on average 8,800 rand a month in salary and benefits, above the national average wage of 6,383 rand, according to government figures.