Union Solidarity forces South Africa government back to negotiating table

S.African unions in talks to end 15-day walkout

(AFP) – 8 hours ago

JOHANNESBURG — Striking South African public sector unions were locked in talks Wednesday over a fresh wage offer to urgently end a 15-day-walkout, though some had already rejected it, officials said.

Unions were to report back to members on the improved offer put on the table after President Jacob Zuma ordered his ministers to negotiate a solution to the stoppage that has paralysed schools and hospitals.

“I know for a fact that some of the unions have rejected the offer, that they will not sign at all,” said Chris Klopper, chairman of the Independent Labour Caucus, one of the labour umbrellas representing 1.3 million workers.

The government and unions were to meet again later Wednesday to discuss a way forward, but one of the biggest striking unions said it has refused the latest proposal.

“We have rejected the offer,” said Sizwe Pamla, spokesman for the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), which has 244,000 members.

The union will report to the labour federation that “the position of our members is that this offer is inadequate, is unacceptable.”

Zuma’s order to break the deadlock came amid mounting pressure over walk-out, which is now in its third week, as wage disputes spread to the private auto sector and forced an indefinite shutdown at a Volkswagen plant.

But the revised public sector offer saw sympathy strikes planned for Thursday, including at the country’s mines, called off to give civil servants time to vote on the new deal.

“The NUM would like to emphasise that this is a suspension and as such should a resolution not be found, the NUM reserves its right to strike,” said the 320,000-strong National Union of Mineworkers

The country’s main labour federation Cosatu, which lists some two million members, had called for the solidarity strikes which it suspended on Wednesday.

However it also warned that future stoppages were possible.

“The federation would however stress that this is only a suspension and our affiliated unions remain ready to take solidarity strike action in support of the public service workers if a resolution to the dispute is not reached.”

The new offer still falls short of the workers’ demand, which is more than twice the rate of inflation and which the government says will force cuts in public services that already struggle to meet demand.

The state will have to borrow money to fund its compromise offer which would cost an extra seven billion rands (950 million dollars, 747 million euros), Public Service Minister Richard Baloyi told Business Day on Wednesday.

“Obviously, we will have to borrow the money. We dragged ourselves to this point,” he told the daily.

The government revised its offer to a 7.5 percent wage increase and an 800-rand housing allowance, up from its previous offer of a seven percent raise and 700 rands for housing.

Unions are demanding an 8.6 percent increase and a 1,000-rand housing allowance.

As the public sector protest drags on, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa went on strike Wednesday in the motor industry, forcing an indefinite shutdown at Volkswagen of South Africa’s plant in Uitenhage.

“The company deeply regrets this unavoidable situation,” it said, pointing to substantial loss of volume of Polo cars destined for local and foreign markets.

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

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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