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South Africa strike: 1.3 million government workers push for wage hike

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Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

(Read caption) South African state workers seeking higher wages take part in a strike outside the Natalspruit hospital, east of Johannesburg, August 18, 2010.

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A nationwide strike of South African government workers – some 1.3 million of them – threatened to bring South Africa’s government to a virtual halt on Wednesday.

Nurses, teachers, clerks, immigration officers, and home affairs personnel all walked out on the job, bringing almost all essential services to a halt.

The strike was called when talks broke down over wage increases. Unions had demanded an 8.6 percent wage increase, while government negotiators stuck to an increase of just 7 percent, along with a small housing allowance.

On Tuesday COSATU Public Service Unions and the Independent Labour Caucus (ILC) rejected government's new offer before taking to the streets.

“Starting today [Wednesday] the strike for public service unions will continue until such time that the employer accedes to the demands of the workers,” said Mugwene Maluleke, secretary general for South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).

According to Reuters, a mid-level South African public servant earns about 8,800 rand ($1,200) a month, compared to the national average wage of 6,383 rand, but many economists say that the bulk of govenrment workers remain underpaid.

A strike culture

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