Unions representing some 800,000 civil servants are demanding wage increases against the rising cost of living.

Thousands of public sector workers in South Africa have embarked on a nationwide strike to demand better wages.

Tuesday’s “National Day of Action” comes after wage negotiations between unions and the government collapsed; the government offered a 3 percent wage increase, but unions are demanding 10 percent because of rising inflation.

The dispute between the government and its workers is putting pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa as he seeks re-election as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

Seven unions — representing about 800,000 civil servants, including those working in hospitals, schools and police stations — are marching in eight provinces of the country. Last week, members pledged to organize picket lines and demonstrations outside hospitals, ports and government offices in a “show of force”.

“With the cost of living rising rapidly… the government wants civil servants to be at peace with less than inflation rises. This will not last,” the unions said in a joint statement last week.

Inflation in South Africa was 7.5 percent in September, down from a peak of 7.8 percent in July.

Earlier this month, Labor Minister Thulas Nxesi said the government would unilaterally push for a 3 percent increase across the board — an offer dismissed as “paltry” by workers’ representatives.

In an effort to stave off the strike, the government last week made a final offer of an effective wage increase of 7.5 per cent – ​​3 per cent pensionable and 4.5 per cent non-pensionable. But in a joint statement on Nov. 18, the unions called the news of the bid “misleading”.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said during his mini budget speech in October that the government can only afford an average wage increase of 3.3 percent.

During a march in Pretoria on Tuesday December 12, Mavuso, deputy secretary-general of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), told local channel eNCA News that the unions are open to negotiations “as long as workers raise inflation-related so that the value of their pay packages is not eroded by inflation”.

“Three percent is really next to nothing, so that’s why we want an improvement in supply and the government needs to come back to the negotiations so that we can properly resolve this dispute,” Mavuso added.

He also said that the unions do not believe the government cannot afford the increases. “There is money, we don’t believe there is no money. But the neoliberal austerity program being implemented by the government is causing problems.”

The strikes come ahead of the ruling ANC’s election conference next month. Ramaphosa, also accused of attempting to cover up a multimillion-dollar theft at his ranch, is seeking a second term at the helm of the ANC.

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