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South Africa council workers strike, services crippled
Mon Jul 27, 2009 11:29am EDT
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By Alison Raymond
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Thousands of South African council workers went on strike on Monday to press for wage hikes, crippling public services in Africa's biggest economy and piling political pressure on new President Jacob Zuma.
The industrial action is being seen as more muscle flexing from the ruling ANC government's labor union allies, who have called for increased social spending to cushion workers from the country's first recession in 17 years.
The strike by public transport workers, refuse collectors and licensing officers among others, follows days of violent protests by residents of impoverished townships who have complained about lack of healthcare, water and electricity.
Hundreds of passengers were stranded in Johannesburg's central business district as bus services ground to a halt.
About 5,000 council workers, many wielding sticks, clubs and wearing T-shirts that pronounced "fighting for survival," marched in the city, singing ANC revolutionary songs and blowing plastic trumpets.
Police officers, some on horseback, kept watch over the strikers from a distance. Some workers overturned refuse containers, leaving litter strewn on the streets. Shops and businesses locked their doors as the marchers approached.
Similar marches took place in Pretoria and Cape Town and national broadcaster SABC said police fired teargas to disperse rowdy crowds in the northern city of Polokwane, arresting several people.
NO MARKET IMPACT
The latest industrial action has had no impact on financial markets yet but analysts said this could change if the strikes drag on and affect more services and economic sectors. Production in the world's top source of platinum and major producer of gold were also unaffected.
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU), which say they represent 150,000 council workers, want a 15 percent wage hike. They have rejected an 11.5 percent wage increase. Annual inflation was 8 percent in May.
"Indications are that the majority of workers, if not 90 percent 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 ... the effect is visible," he told Reuters, adding the strike could be indefinite.
Albert Schuitmaker, executive director of business group Cape Regional Chamber, said workers' demands were excessive.
"Salary increases are normally around about the inflation rate plus maybe one or two percent, so to come in with demands of 15 percent is excessive. The economy cannot carry that," Schuitmaker said on private station eTV.
A rail workers' union said it had suspended a strike set for Tuesday which would have left thousands of urban commuters stranded, to allow for further wage talks. Continued...
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