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SA construction, airport workers strike

26 August 2013, 16:35

South Africa - South African construction and airport workers went on strike for higher wages on Monday, extending a spate of industrial action threatening to slow growth in Africa's largest economy.

The labour unrest poses risks for President Jacob Zuma's African National Congress as it heads into elections next year facing increasing criticism that it has not done enough to help the millions of unemployed and working poor - almost 20 years after the end of white-minority apartheid rule.

The rand last week tumbled to a four-year low after 30,000 workers in the car manufacturing sector, responsible for 6 percent of gross domestic product, walked out and gold miners threatened to strike.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said about 90,000 of its members in the construction sector planned to down tools on Monday. More than 50 percent of employers were affected by the labour action, industry group SAFCEC said in a statement.

Employment in the construction industry was at just over 1 million people at the end of June, according to government data.

Major construction firms that could be hit by strikes included Wilson Bayly Holmes Ovcon, Aveng Ltd and Group Five Ltd.

"I didn't know there was a strike," said Luvo Joti, a construction worker who reported for duty at a project in Johannesburg's financial district of Sandton.

Stick-toting NUM members in the union's red T-shirts later arrived at the site and forced workers apparently oblivious of the strike decision or unwilling to heed it to down their tools. Police reported some violence at the scene.

Pay hike demand

NUM is demanding up to a 40 percent increase in pay and benefits for some workers while employers are offering a 7.5 percent raise, according to the industry group called the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC).

South Africa's central bank has said that inflation is projected to run at 5.9 percent in 2013 and wage settlements well above inflation could further threaten the fragile economy.

Some members of the SATAWU transport union also went on strike on Monday, staging a small picket at Johannesburg's main international airport in pursuit of a 12 percent wage increase.

The firm that runs all the country's major airports, Airports Company South Africa, said the strike had not affected any flights and it had contingency plans in place to ensure smooth operations.

Autoworkers with the NUMSA union were meeting on Monday to mull a revised offer from employers, which was reported in local media to be a 10 percent wage increase. NUMSA wants 14 percent.

The strike that started a week ago is costing the economy an estimated $60 million a day.

In the gold sector, NUM gave gold mining companies seven days on Saturday to meet its demand for pay increases of up to 60 percent or face strikes.

Major firms vulnerable to walkouts included AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony.

NUM, the main mining union, walked out of deadlocked wage talks with the companies last Wednesday, setting the scene for a gold industry shutdown that could cost over $35 million a day in lost output, based on current spot prices of the metal.

- Reuters


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