September 7, 2010

South African unions suspend strike action after offer rise

South African unions suspend strike action after offer rise

Tuesday 07 September 2010

Public-sector staff have returned to work in South Africa after their unions decided to suspend a 20-day strike for three weeks while members consider a draft agreement.

Hospitals and schools reopened and are expected to be operating as usual from today.

Strikers have repeatedly taken to the streets and braved rubber bullets and water cannons over the last three weeks to press their demand for an 8.6 per cent pay rise, more than double the inflation rate, plus a 1,000 rand-a-month (£90) housing allowance.

President Jacob Zuma's ANC administration had signed a 7 per cent and 700 rand (£63) offer which it was threatening to implement unilaterally.

But the 1.3 million strikers, who are not compensated for missed work days by their unions, didn't budge an inch.

And with the strike costing the developing country an estimated 1 billion rand (£89.7m) a day, the ANC swiftly upped its offer to 7.5 per cent - plus 800 rand (£72) for housing.

A statement released by the Cosatu union federation saluted the "heroic workers who sacrificed days' wages and remained united in order to push the employer to move from its original position." The state had "failed to crush the strike and finally succumbed to the demand by labour to withdraw" the signed 7 per cent agreement, it said.

"This is a victory in the history of public service negotiations where the employer was forced to reopen negotiations," Cosatu declared, adding that the action had also succeeded in "placing the needs of the poor and social issues such as health, education and a social safety net at the top of the national agenda."

It went on to stress that the public-sector unions' decision to suspend the action "does not mean that they have accepted the government's latest wage offer."

Reports in local media suggest that union officials will have a tough time drumming up support for the draft agreement.

The City Press newspaper said that rank-and-file members of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) chased union officials out of a meeting in Soweto when they heard that the strike had been suspended.

NEHAWU member Ndiitwani Ramarumo was quoted as saying: "Members are angry and they want to protest by going to the national office to burn their membership cards."

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