Frustrations mount over strike

2010-08-24 14:45

Johannesburg – Public frustrations over civil servants' week-long strike mounted on Tuesday, as pregnant women were turned away from public hospitals and government said scores of strikers had been arrested.

Babies were turned away from a Johannesburg children's hospital along with at least 20 heavily pregnant women, including some already in labour on the sidewalk, newspapers reported.

Hundreds of volunteers and about 1 700 soldiers are working at public hospitals as some nurses have defied a court order barring essential staff from joining the strike in a wage dispute with the government.

"It's a sad day when people are turned away from hospitals," one volunteer told The Times newspaper. "The striking workers intimidate us while we are trying to help. They accuse us of stealing their jobs."

Most public hospitals and clinics were running with at least skeleton staffing. Doctors have not joined the strike.

Strikers arrested

Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said 89 strikers have been arrested since the strike began on August 18, mainly around Johannesburg and in the mining town of Kimberley for public violence or intimidating workers who stayed on the job.

But neither side has shown any sign of backing down, with unions insisting on an 8.6% increase and a R1 000 housing allowance. The government has offered seven percent and a R700 allowance.

Anger over the wage offer is fuelled in part by what workers see as conspicuous spending by senior government officials on expensive cars and luxury hotels.

"The government ministers who deny workers their meagre wage increase have spent millions of Rands on luxury vehicles and are living caviar lifestyles at the expense of the poor majority that is dependent of government services," the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union said on Tuesday.

"This is a case of the shepherd feeding himself and forgetting about the lambs," he said.