Home News S.African municipal workers begin wage strike

S.African municipal workers begin wage strike

Published on 15/08/2011

South Africa's garbage collectors and bus drivers walked off the job on Monday as a local government union with nearly 200,000 members launched an open-ended strike to demand higher wages.

“The strike is indefinite, it will end when the employers come to the table with a reasonable offer. Our bottom line however is 10 percent, we won’t accept anything less,” said South African Municipal Workers Union spokesman Tahir Sema.

Municipal workers have been offered six percent but are demanding an 18 percent or 2000 rand ($276 dollars, 193 euros) wage increase, more than three times the rate of headline inflation of five percent in June.

Marches and picketing were scheduled for several cities on Monday but had been affected by a cold winter snap in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, said the union which called the strike for its municipal and water sector workers.

“We are happy that our members have accepted and responded to our call for a strike,” said Sema, who said independent unions were set to join the strike later in the week.

“Planned marches however have been hampered by the bad weather and some logistical problems… Some municipalities are holding pickets and planning to hand over a memorandum to mayors.”

The union’s previous strikes have been marred by public violence and intimidation of non-striking workers.

On Monday local media reported Cape Town marchers had overturned waste bins, set a bin alight, and pelted police officers in riot gear with onions and sticks.

A fire station, clinics and driving licence testing centres in two suburbs were temporarily closed due to intimidation of staff.

“The city strongly condemns these acts of intimidation and will take a hard line against this sort of behaviour,” it said in a statement.

The mid-year winter months are known as “strike season” in South Africa, where contract negotiations around the end of the fiscal year on June 30 often lead to workers walking out to demand wage hikes.

Since June the country has seen strikes in different major industries, including coal and gold mining, oil refineries and engineering which all ended after reaching similar deals of between 7 percent and 10 percent after demanding double digit wage increases.