Monday, June 04, 2007


Police in Durban, South Africa opened fire with rubber bullets and hurled stun grenades at striking nurses today. Several of the demonstrators, who were taking part in a nationwide strike over pay, were wounded and 20 nurses were arrested in the incident, reports said. The nurses were part of a group of striking workers that had blocked entrances to Addington Hospital in Durban, SAfm public radio reported.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports Monday was to be a crunch day in the four-day-old strike after the government on Sunday warned essential services workers, including nurses, to go back to work Monday or face being fired.

Nearly half a million workers downed tools on the first day of the strike Friday, including large numbers of nurses, an estimated 80 per cent of teachers and an estimated 22 per cent of national and provincial government workers. Analysts say it is one of the biggest strikes in the history of South Africa and workers say they will only return to work once a resolution is found.

The strike, supported by 17 unions representing over one million public service workers, was called to press demands for a 12-per-cent pay increase. Their plea for a 12% increase in their pay is not that much when you consider higher up officials in the government have recently received a 30% increase or more to their salary.

The government, which is attempting to link improved wages with improved performances, is offering 6 per cent plus extra benefits for some workers.

South Africa`s inflation rate has risen to 5.5%.

"As a teacher I`m earning peanuts," a 40-year-old teacher from Dr B W Vilakazi High School in Soweto told the BBC`s Network Africa programme.

"I teach many students but soon after they complete their studies, they earn way more than I do."

The strike seems to have been observed in all nine of South Africa`s provinces. "Reports so far indicate a very, very good turnout," a spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Patrick Craven told Reuters.

A press release today from Cosatu read:

COSATU condemns attacks on strikers

The Congress of South African Trade Unions fully supports the decision of the public service trade union negotiators who have boycotted this morning's negotiations at the Public Sector Coordinated Bargaining Council in protest at the brutal attacks on striking workers. They were absolutely correct to register such a forceful protest.

COSATU condemns in the strongest terms the firing of rubber bullets at nurses outside the Addington Hospital, Durban, by police, and the arrest of 20 workers who were picketing at the hospital.

We send our best wishes to all the injured workers for a full recovery. We demand an immediate investigation to identify and discipline those responsible for ordering the shootings and we insist on the immediate, unconditional release of those arrested.

It is highly disturbing that these attacks follow the firing of stun grenades at demonstrators outside the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, which COSATU condemned on Friday.

We shall be demanding an urgent meeting with the Minister of Safety and Security to find ways to prevent any more confrontations like these.

COSATU also deplores the government's threats to sack health workers who do not return to work. We fully endorse the view of Fikile Majola, General Secretary of NEHAWU, that "if government fires health workers, the negotiation process is not going to work".

The government should know that just dismissing workers in the middle of a strike means that you are actually compounding the problem. Attitudes will simply harden and in the end the real victim will be the system of collective bargaining itself.

The unions will defend the right of all workers to exercise their constitutional rights to strike, with the exception only of workers covered by an agreement on essential services. We shall vigorously oppose the government's moves to interdict broad categories of health workers from striking, including those whose work is clearly not essential.

The Central Executive Committee in session from 4-6 June 2007 will debate the strike and these worrying developments. We shall look at ways to ensure solidarity between the public- and private-sector based workers.

In the meantime we are calling on workers in the public sector to intensify the strike and to remain united in the face of the employers' intimidation and bullying antics.

The following is from the Mail and Guardian (South Africa).

Cops fire at striking nurses in Durban

South African police on Monday fired rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of nurses taking part in a nationwide strike over pay, wounding several, state radio reported.

Police also arrested 20 nurses in the incident at a hospital in Durban, the radio said. It quoted police as saying the nurses were blocking entrances to the hospital.

Police were not immediately available to comment on the report, but the South African Press Association (Sapa) quoted a police spokesperson as saying there were no shootings, only the arrests of 12 striking workers at Durban's Addington Hospital.

Since the start of the strike on Friday, tensions have risen between the government and public workers, increasing fears the mass action will cripple services and hurt South Africa's economy -- the biggest on the continent.

Fikile Slovo Majola, general secretary of the National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), said government threats over the weekend to fire striking nurses would only undermine efforts to reach a resolution.

"The Department of Health's threats to fire nurses is only going to put negotiations in jeopardy," he told Reuters.

The strike was organised by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), a key force in a political alliance with the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Cosatu's affiliated unions make up about 60% of public service employees, including doctors, nurses, police and teachers. So far, the strike has mainly hit the health sector.

Union leaders have said they will not end the mass action until the government agrees to double its pay rise offer to 12%.

South Africa's economy is booming but civil servants complain they have not had a pay rise since one that ended a major public service strike in 2004.

President Thabo Mbeki's government fears that significant wage increases could further raise inflation.

Anger boiled over after an official body recently recommended Mbeki receive a 57% pay rise.

Unions have accused Mbeki of favouring big business over the poor in his efforts to attract foreign investment.

Negotiations to end the strike and reach an agreement on pay were due to resume on Monday. - Reuters

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