More than 1 million South Africa state workers strike

Wed Aug 18, 2010 4:28pm GMT

By Jon Herskovitz

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - More than one million South African state workers went on strike for more pay on Wednesday, threatening a prolonged action they say will bring the government in Africa's largest economy to a halt.

The strike, punctuated by reported scuffles at hospitals and schools, is not immediately expected to have a major economic impact but a protracted work stoppage could hurt commerce at home and trade abroad.

"We have nothing to lose but the chains that bind us," said Norman Mampane, national spokesman for the POPCRU police and prison guards' union, which is one of the groups in the labour coalition representing about 1.3 million state workers.

The labour action is expected to escalate on Thursday as more unions join the work stoppage with protests including teachers trying to block one of the main highways into Johannesburg and hospital employees staging pickets outside emergency rooms.

Local media reported some pushing and shoving between striking workers and managers at a few hospitals and schools during Wednesday's action.

Economists worry that whatever deal is reached will swell state spending as the government tries to bring its deficit down from 6.7 percent of gross domestic product.

"As government, as the employer, we have indicated and demonstrated for all to see that our capacity to afford is actually exhausted," Public Services Minister Richard Baloyi told a news conference in Cape Town.

Baloyi said a deal would cost at least 5 billion rand $690 million (441 million pounds) more than budgeted and cuts would have to be made elsewhere. He repeated a threat that the government could unilaterally impose its wage offer to end the standoff.   Continued...

<p>South African state workers seeking higher wages take part in a strike outside the Natalspruit hospital, east of Johannesburg, August 18, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko</p>
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