18 August, 2010 — Morning Star
One million South African civil servants have begun indefinite strike action, leaving schools without teachers and trials postponed.
The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) – an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – said that 90 per cent of members had responded to its call in a dispute over pay and conditions.
All its 240,000 members in the education sector left classrooms early to attend meetings and discuss the dispute, SADTU spokeswoman Nomusa Cembi said.
‘They would like to be teaching the students, but they are saying it is high time their concerns are heard,’ Ms Cembi declared.
The SADTU executive voted unanimously on Tuesday to hold the indefinite strike.
The union is demanding an 8.6 per cent wage increase and a 1,000 rand (£88) housing allowance implemented on April 1 2011.
The government claims it can only afford a 7 per cent rise and a 700 rand (£62) allowance from July 1 2011.
Public Service Minister Richard Baloyi complained: ‘We question how a responsible (union) leadership can advocate for an indefinite strike action knowing why the demand cannot be met in this financial year, knowing the impact such action would have on the delivery of services to all the citizens of the republic, knowing the adverse effects it would have to the very members whose interests they represent.’
However the union pointed out that its demands are similar to those awarded at state-owned electricity firm Eskom and logistics operation Transnet.
‘The government has a responsibility to honour the demands by workers without trivialising them,’ SADTU said in a statement.
‘Politics cannot be separated from the struggle for labour rights.’
It added that failed economic policies pursued by the government were behind low wages in the public sector.
Wednesday’s strike by civil servants follows a one-day walkout last week.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said at the time: ‘We are asking for 8.6 per cent only.
‘We are asking for a mere 1,000 rands for a housing allowance only. This is peanuts, comrades.’
The SADTU executive pledged to work closely with the joint committee of Cosatu-affiliated public-service unions to co-ordinate a ‘programme of action.’