Rail workers' union threatens strike

A South African rail workers’ union said on Saturday its members would strike next week if the state operator did not restart wage talks, the latest in a wave of industrial action in Africa’s biggest economy.

The United Transport and Allied Union (Utatu) said a commuter rail strike seemed unavoidable after operator Metrorail broke off talks and agreed a pay deal with the larger South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu).

A series of strikes and strike threats in the past few weeks has led to several above-inflation settlements in South Africa, including agreements in the gold and coal industries.

State power firm Eskom said on Thursday it had reached an agreement with unions over pay and a housing policy, averting a strike that could have led to power cuts and hurt the economy.

The unions helped propel President Jacob Zuma to power and want him to spend more on the poor, a policy that could be economically risky during a recession. Zuma said this week there was no “pandering” to labour.

Utatu said in a statement it was on the verge of agreeing a 9,5% pay deal with Metrorail when the operator broke off talks to broker an 8% agreement with Satawu. It said that while Satawu was the larger union, most drivers and technicians are members of Utatu, so a strike could cripple the rail system.

The union said it was pressing for a bigger wage increase after higher settlements in other sectors.
The government gave council workers a 13% pay rise on July 31, nearly double the inflation rate of 6,9% for June.

No one at Metrorail could immediately be reached for comment.—Reuters

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