Union leaders meet as strike impasse continues

Striking public-service unions held a second day of meetings on Friday as an impasse between government and workers dragged out a crippling 17-day strike.

With no new meeting between the government and unions scheduled until Monday, the strike, which has shut down schools and crippled hospitals across the country, looked set to continue through the weekend.

The military has sent about 4 000 soldiers to provide essential medical services, security and cleaning at 62 hospitals across the country.

As union leaders held closed-door discussions and workers took to the streets for fresh marches in Johannesburg and Pretoria on Friday, the government said it had no more room to manoeuvre.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Wednesday rejected the government’s revised wage offer.

The Independent Labour Caucus (ILC), another union umbrella group, said consultations with its members were ongoing, but it looked as if its members had also rejected the deal.

“In terms of the feedback we have received so far it looks like members are leaning towards the negative,” ILC chairperson Chris Klopper told Agence France-Presse.

“We are about to reject the offer as well.”

But this was subject to both unions continuing consultations with their members, he added.

“We need to discuss the document in depth and consider that the strike is a no work, no pay,” added Klopper.

“We need to evaluate whether they [public servants] have the media and public support and assess if they feel they will gain anything by further striking.”

‘More time for consultation’
The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, one of the unions under Cosatu, said it too was consulting with its members to explain the details of the offer.

“We are concerned that our members rejected the offer based on the numbers, as the revised offer was publicised in the media first before we could discuss with our members.

“What we are doing now is explaining the offer in detail so that members make an informed decision, therefore we requested more time for consultation,” said union spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.

Public Service Minister Richard Baloyi, who has said the government’s latest offer would already force it to borrow money to pay workers, insisted on Friday that negotiators could not revise their offer again.

“If you revise, it is when you’ve got room to manoeuvre, but if you don’t have room to manoeuvre, you have no space to move to,” he told public broadcaster SABC radio.

The country’s largest labour federation, Cosatu, said union leaders would continue meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the way forward.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven told Agence France-Presse that “there’s nothing fixed until Monday”, referring to the unions’ next meeting with the government.

Taking its toll
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned on Thursday that the shutdown was taking a toll on the country’s economy.

“The benefits that South Africa should have gained from the successful hosting of the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup are being seriously eroded by the current activities of labour,” the organisation said.

President Jacob Zuma on Monday ordered ministers back to the bargaining table in an effort to resolve the impasse.

That led to the government increasing its offer to a 7,5% wage increase and an R800 housing allowance—up from 7% and R700 for housing.

Unions want an 8,6% increase and a R1 000 housing allowance.

The state is hoping to avoid a repeat of a four-week walkout three years ago, the longest and most widespread strike since the end of apartheid in 1994.—AFP


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