No end to public service strike

2010-08-25 14:15

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Johannesburg - A national public service strike showed no sign of ending on Wednesday, as unions geared up for a solidarity strike and the government started postponing matric exams.

The eighth day of the mass action seemed mainly peaceful, with police spokespeople from all provinces, except for the Northern Cape, reporting no incidents of violence and intimidation.

In Kimberley, however, a high school had to be evacuated after non-striking teachers were intimidated.

"A group of strikers went into the school and intimidated the teachers... the school was evacuated and no-one was injured," said Captain Cherelle Ehlers.

Exams postponed

Two provincial education departments announced the postponement of preliminary matric exams, which were due to have started early in September.

"Firstly, the current strike conditions make it difficult to continue with the exams immediately, and secondly, once the public sector strike ends, it will be necessary to catch up on teaching time," said Gauteng education spokesperson Charles Phahlane.

The Eastern Cape education department said it had made a similar decision, adding that more information would be made available later.

The national government said it was still mulling over its response to an ultimatum announced by the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Tuesday evening.

Cosatu warned that if the government did not improve on its seven percent offer (excluding a 1.5% pay progression agreement), all its members would launch a secondary strike next Thursday.

The SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) said its 52 000 members in Gauteng would down tools in solidarity with the 1.3 million public servants on Friday.

"Samwu's membership in other provinces are in the process of discussing pledging solidarity," said spokesperson Tahir Sema.

Public service sector unions continued to receive statements of support on Wednesday.

The Conference of the Democratic Left said public sector workers "had a right to be angry". The Workers International Vanguard League "saluted the heroic spirit of the public sector strikers".

Violence and intimidation

Criticism against the government continued.

"Government has been caught napping and does not know how to deal with the fact that its own employees are unhappy with the shoddy handling of their wage negotiations and the hostile treatment they have received," the National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union said:

Political parties condemned the violence and intimidation, and the disruption schooling and health services.

Soldiers have been deployed to help out in 42 hospitals countrywide where several patients have died because of a lack of proper care.

The ANC in Gauteng "strongly condemned... the acts of vandalism, trashing and intimidation" by striking workers.

"We call on the leadership of unions to take full responsibility and stop all illegal and objectionable actions."

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said the cost of the wage dispute had been too high.

"No salary dispute justifies the death of people and the destruction of young matriculants' careers.

"The death of defenceless ill people and innocent babies as a result of the public service strike is the worst form of selfishness."

'Hidden agenda'

Mulder criticised the "radicalism" of Cosatu's leadership.

"It is appearing more and more that there may be a hidden agenda behind the strike.

"Cosatu leaders have already expressed their frustrations with President [Jacob] Zuma because he is not following their policy directions," said Mulder.

Cosatu has threatened that its secondary strike will shut down the economy.

"We call on all workers to intensify their action," it said.

"Every Cosatu-affiliated union must on August 26 submit [a seven-day] notice to their employers to embark on a secondary strike," Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Until Monday, the had government said it was offering a seven percent increase.

However, Maseko then said the offer was in "real terms" actually 8.5%, a mere tenth of a percent short of what unions wanted.

This was because the increase offer was bolstered by a 1.5% pay progression.

However, unions said the pay progression was part of an old agreement on performance appraisals signed in 2003.

Unions are demanding an 8.6% increase and R1 000 monthly housing allowance, and have rejected the government's offer of seven percent and a R700 allowance.

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