Municipal workers warn of pay strikes

2012-05-21 22:34

Johannesburg - Municipal workers kicked off annual wage negotiations on Monday with a demand for increases nearly three times the inflation rate, warning of a repeat of strikes that have crippled public services in recent years.

In a statement, the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) said it wanted an annual increase of 15% for its members, compared with inflation of 6% and against a government offer of 4%.

"Their [the government's] response is tantamount to declaring war on municipal workers," Samwu said. It threatened industrial action as the "only way for municipal workers to fight for a living wage".

SAMWU claims more than 200 000 members, most of them water, sanitation and refuse workers.

In its budget in February, the Treasury allowed for a 5% wage increase for public servants, adding that a huge state salary bill was crowding out investment in infrastructure and other key productive sectors.

Mining firms in one of the world's biggest producers of gold and platinum were last year forced to award above-inflation pay increases for two years to end strikes in the sector.

Analysts say union demands for steep pay rises have put a strain on companies' operating costs, undermining the national drive to slash high unemployment, which currently is just above 25% of the labour force.

Traditionally, wage negotiations last several weeks in the mid-year wage bargaining session known as "strike season" with unions often downing tools to back their demands, disrupting mine production and also hitting services in state hospitals and schools.

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