See also:
» 28.03.2011 - SA workers to "invade Swaziland"
» 18.03.2011 - Unions to stop Walmart entering South Africa
» 23.03.2010 - World Cup business frustration hits SA taxis
» 28.07.2009 - New offer to avert further municipal strike
» 27.07.2009 - SA municipal workers on strike
» 23.04.2009 - Govt threatens to withhold pay for striking doctors
» 09.04.2009 - SA truckers vow to contrinue strike over Easter weekend
» 27.10.2008 - SA Mining giants warned of deteriorating safety

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South Africa

South Africa's public workers strike against "underpayment"

afrol News, 16 September - South Africa's civil service workers today widely followed the trade union's one-day strike order and paralysed many state services. According to trade union leader Zwelinzima Vavi, the strike was a protest against "longstanding underpayment" where annual increases had not kept pace with inflation during the last decade.

As many as 700,000 public workers walked off their jobs today, according to South Africa's leading trade union, COSATU. Tens of thousands additionally participated in protest marches throughout the country, demanding higher salaries and improved conditions. COSATU described the one-day strike as a success.

In particular the education sector was paralysed by the nation-wide strike and most schools had to keep their doors closed today. It was the first time ever the COSATU-affiliated teachers' union (SADTU) had called for a general strike, and the union estimates that some 320,000 educators had observed today's strike action.

The SADTU Secretariat in a statement released today warned the South African government, it needed to realise that "this is not a one-day affair. The problem will not go away." The union said it could not accept what it called "a two-year freeze on real wages for 2005 and 2006," which it holds would be the consequence of the employers' proposal.

While almost all organised educators followed COSATU's strike call, turn-up at work was higher in other sectors, in particular among health workers and the police. Striking is illegal for employees of these designated essential services, according to South African legislation.

According to COSATU leader Zwelinzima Vavi, speaking to marching public sector workers in Pretoria today, "longstanding underpayment and understaffing" had been the principal reason for all COSATU-affiliated unions to call for the strike. Especially for skilled public workers, annual wage increases during the last decade had been eaten up by an equal inflation rate. Teachers' pay by now "starts at Rand 7000 [euro 875] a month, and many take home only Rand 3500 or so," Mr Vavi complained.

The pay of South African nurses starts at around Rand 5000 (euro 625) a month – about the same as a skilled factory worker, according to the trade union leader. "Yet because of understaffing and the loss of personnel from the public sector in particular, we have seen growing workloads," Mr Vavi told the protesting workers in Pretoria.

- There is still no career pathing for most public servants, said Mr Vavi. "Therefore they will only get an annual notch, which means a real increase of 1 percent above inflation at most. That is a very small real increase, especially given productivity gains." While the state had given senior managers high increases to fill high-level positions, "good educators, nurses and even police officers are leaving for England" because of poor wages in South Africa, he added.

South Africa's main opposition party, the conservative Democratic Alliance (DA), today said it sympathised with "the plight of many public service workers who often work in unenviable conditions for very low pay." While the party did "not support" the strike, it said government was responsible because it should have abandoned central bargaining.

- Central bargaining weakens the claim of outstanding teachers, nurses and doctors for higher wages and better conditions, commented DA spokesman Richard Ntuli. "Their frustration has often resulted in their seeking work overseas, contributing to the 'brain drain' of skilled public servants. The cost of losing a public servant also includes the cost of the state-subsidised training that person has received," Mr Ntuli added.

Meanwhile, Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi has decided to establish a technical team "to examine options for breaking the current deadlock in public service wage negotiations." The ruling ANC party today urged all parties "to remain seized with the responsibility of finding a solution that is acceptable to both government and employees."

South Africa's public sector employs a total of 1.1 million people. An estimated 1.0 million of these are trade union members. The so-called "brain drain" has caused increasing problems in recruiting skilled workers, especially nurses and doctors, in South Africa over the last years. Many go to Europe, where a lack of skilled health workers has produced high salaries.

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