Workers rally in South Africa, government offers talk

August 26th, 2010 - 11:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Pretoria, Aug 26 (IANS) Thousands of government workers, including teachers and health staff, took out rallies across South Africa Thursday after nine days of strikes over salary hike, forcing authorities to call for negotiation.
Public servants and teachers unions walked off their work places Aug 18 demanding better wages and an increase in housing allowance. More unions have said they plan to join the strikes. Various marches were planned for Thursday, according to South African news agency BuaNews.

Government has asked the agitators to maintain calm and come to the negotiation table.

“We appeal to the public servants who are on strike to act responsibly and allow the country’s leaders to find a solution to the impasse,” Themba Maseko, a government spokesperson, said in a statement.

Urging union leaders to refrain from making inflammatory statements, the spokesman said: “These statements are unnecessary and irresponsible. Such statements serve to fuel further violence and intimidation”.

“Everyone must condemn the violent behaviour. Government expects union leaders to also condemn the violence and to encourage their members to protest peacefully. No amount of frustration can ever justify intimidation of society by striking workers,” he said.

Government, Maseko said, remains committed and open to talks with the unions with a view to finding a lasting solution to the wage dispute. Both government and union leaders have a responsibility to the nation to resolve the strike through negotiations.

“We call on the unions to return to the negotiation table as soon as possible. The fact that union demands are not affordable at this stage is no reason to resort to ‘war talk’ or to abandon talks.

“Government reiterates that the settlement offer is fair and reasonable in view of the current economic climate and the broad range of challenges facing the nation,” he said.

“Meeting the union demands today will be at the expense of other national challenges. For example, meeting teacher wage demands today could mean no textbooks for learners tomorrow.”

DPA adds:

Tens of thousands of teachers, nurses and other public servants demonstrated in cities across South Africa Thursday as a public sector strike that has paralysed the country’s schools and hospitals entered a ninth day under fresh steam.

Central Johannesburg was brought to a standstill as unionized workers marched on the offices of the government’s education and health departments as well as the office of the provincial premier to submit lists of their demands.

In Cape Town, parliament was also besieged by thousands of striking workers, some bearing placards calling for Public Services Minister Richard Baloyi to be fired and warning President Jacob Zuma, who is on a state visit to China, that South Africa was “burning” in his absence.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers, nurses, court workers and other public servants, who number 1.3 million in total, walked off the job Aug 18 after failing to agree a new wage deal with the government.

Complaining of being historically underpaid, the workers are demanding an 8.6 per cent pay rise and a housing allowance of 1,000 rand ($136).

The government last week drew a line in the sand at 7 percent and a 700 rand allowance, saying that any more money on salaries would mean robbing the poor of basic services. Since then, the government has changed its line and now insists that its offer actually amounts to 8.5 per cent when a performance-related bonus is included.

But the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has rubbished the bonus as nothing new and has called for more workers to join the strike next week so that its impact is felt across the entire economy.

The strike has already shut down most of the country’s schools and left public hospitals in Johannesburg and Durban hanging by a thread as nurses leave critically ill patients to fend for themselves while they man the picket lines.

Several people, including a two-year-old toddler whose ambulance was turned away from a Durban hospital by striking workers, have reportedly died as a result of the strike.

The national health department has not put a number on the casualties.

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