SA council workers extend strike – A challenge to Zuma’s leadership
Posted by African Press International on July 30, 2009
South African President Jacob Zuma gestures during a news conference in Pretoria, July 29, 2009. South Africa’s council workers’ union said on Thursday it would extend a four-day strike that has crippled public services, after wage deals in key sectors eased the pressure on President Jacob Zuma. REUTERS
JOHANNESBURG, Thursday (Reuters)
South Africa’s council workers’ union said on Thursday it would extend a four-day strike that has crippled public services, after wage deals in key sectors eased the pressure on President Jacob Zuma.
The SAMWU municipal workers’ union said it would hold further talks with local government employers after rejecting the latest pay offer.
“We discussed a number of ways of resolving the impasse and we will approach the negotiations set for today with a view to reaching an agreement that meets the needs of our members,” the union, which represents 150,000 workers, said.
Some union members have trashed city centres to strengthen demands for an above-inflation 15 percent salary hike. Annual inflation is running at 8 percent.
The strike by public transport workers, refuse collectors and licensing officers follows days of violent protests by residents of impoverished townships who have complained about lack of healthcare, water and electricity.
Africa’s biggest economy is suffering its first recession since 1992 and unions say the poor are suffering the most. Unemployment is rising, with more than 4 million people without jobs, according to official data.
The frustration has boiled over into occasional outbreaks of unrest.
On Wednesday the SAPA news agency said police fired rubber bullets at nurses and patients at a clinic in the east of the country. A Reuters cameraman also saw protesting workers in Cape Town hitting passing vehicles with metal bars.
There were no reports of violence on Thursday. Domestic media said marches were planned for central Durban and Joahnnesburg.
SAMWU workers staged a three-week strike in 2006, but the impact failed to extend far beyond the inconvenience of disrupted transport and piles of uncollected rubbish lying on street corners.
Pressure on the government has eased since the country’s biggest union agreed a wage deal with gold and coal producers, averting a potentially damaging strike in the key mining sector.
Paper, industrial chemicals, pharmaceutical and petroleum workers also called off strikes this week after wage deals.
However, economists believe higher-than-inflation settlements could strain the economy further down the road.
Already facing a shortfall in tax revenue due to the economic crisis, South Africa may be forced to increase taxes and the salary hikes could fuel inflation, now standing at 6.9 percent annually.
Shortly after appointing a tough-talking police chief to tackle one of the world’s highest crime rates ahead of the 2010 soccer World Cup, Zuma urged police to crack down on unruly protesters overturning trash cans and littering streets.
“I feel it is important that they should be arrested because they are interfering with the rights of innocent citizens, who are walking around. I have been told there is a law and the law should apply,” he told a news conference.