Services suffer as municipal workers strike

Thousands of South African municipal workers went on strike on Monday to press for wage hikes in a move expected to cripple public services nationwide, piling political pressure on new President Jacob Zuma.

The strike, by public transport workers, refuse collectors and licensing officers, among others, follows days of violent township protests against poor service delivery and unemployment in Africa’s biggest economy.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded in Johannesburg’s CBD on Monday as bus services ground to a halt, while licensing stations remained closed.

Municipal workers gathered in the city for a march later in the day, overturning refuse containers and leaving litter strewn across the streets in their wake.

The latest industrial action has had no impact on financial markets yet, but analysts said this could change if the strikes drag on and affects more services and economic sectors.

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union, which say they represent 150 000 municipal workers, want a 15% wage hike to cushion their members as the country grapples with its first economic recession in 17 years. They have rejected an 11,5% wage increase. Annual inflation was 8% in May.

”Indications are that the majority of workers, if not 90% of them, are out on strike,” said Samwu general secretary Mthandeki Nhlapo.

”Refuse collection is badly affected; bus transport is badly affected. Other services like electricity are also affected. Across all services within municipalities, the effect is visible,” he said, adding the strike could be indefinite.

Workers in the chemical sector have also been on strike for higher pay.

Gold, coal unions consider wage offer
Unions in the gold and coal sectors will announce on Tuesday whether to accept an improved wage offer, thus averting stoppages that would hit some of the world’s biggest mines.

The strikes are the latest sign of discord between the ANC government and its labour union allies, which helped Zuma win an April election in which he promised to improve the lives of millions of South Africa’s poor.

Financial markets have taken the actions in their stride to date, but analysts say this could change if they become more widespread.

”I think the impact on investors and the economy is limited in the short term,” said Peter Attard Montalto, emerging market analyst at Nomura International.

”Investors’ concerns are when they [strikes] shift from being just about wages … and shift to more general policy concerns, interest rates, inflation targeting etc,” he added.

Labour unions have been critical of business-friendly policies like inflation-targeting, which they claim have worsened the plight of the poor. — Reuters

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