Johannesburg – Public sector trade unions in South Africa called on Thursday for a one-day national strike to be held next week, after talks with the government over wages collapsed.
The dispute between the government and its employees piles pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa, as he seeks re-election as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
Unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers including nurses vowed to stage picket lines and demonstrations outside hospitals, ports and government offices in a “show of force” next Tuesday.
“With the rapidly increased cost of living… the government wants public servants to be at peace with less than inflation increases. This cannot stand,” the unions said in a joint statement.
They want wages to rise by up to 10 percent, amid high inflation.
Earlier this month, Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said the government would unilaterally implement a three percent increase across the board – an offer dismissed by workers’ representatives as “paltry”.
Inflation in South Africa was at 7.5 percent in September, down from a peak of 7.8 percent in July.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said during his October mini-budget speech that the government could only afford an average wage increase of 3.3 percent.
The unions called on all their members, including essential workers such as police officers, to march on the National Treasury’s offices in Pretoria and join protest actions across the country next week.
“We have resolved to rally our collective might to push the employer to improve the rejected offer and will use everything in our power to register our disdain to the government,” they said.
The call for action comes after thousands of public workers downed their tools last week in one of the largest work stoppages in recent years.
It also risks adding to the country’s economic and social woes including high unemployment, surging crime and a restive population.
Ramaphosa, who also faces accusations he attempted to cover up a multi-million-dollar cash theft at his farmhouse, seeks a second term at the helm of the ANC.
The party will pick a new leader in hotly contested internal polls in December.
Africa’s most industrialised economy recently took a blow when state rail and port firm workers launched a weeks-long strike which left mineral and fresh fruit exports stranded.