Africa

South Africa wage offer increased in bid to stop strike

South African state workers seeking higher wages take part in a protest march in Johannesburg on 26 August 2010
Image caption With teachers and nurses on strike, schools and hospitals have been in disarray

The South African government has increased its wage offer to more than a million striking public sector workers.

President Jacob Zuma had called for fresh attempts at reconciliation as the two-week long strike has seen many schools and hospitals grind to a halt.

After a night of tough negotiations, government representatives raised their pay offer to 7.5%.

The unions have been demanding 8.6% and are expected to vote on Tuesday night on whether to accept the new offer.

'Victory point?'

Zwelenzima Vavi, secretary general of the main trade union federation, Cosatu, told the BBC his team had fought hard to push the government offer up to 8%.

He said it would be up to the unions' members to decide whether it was acceptable.

"We fought very hard last night and this morning it was not possible... I guess it will take quite a week or two of the same scale of the strike to get the government to move," he said.

"The question that our members now have to answer is: is it necessary - considering all related matters - or is it at the point of victory at this particular point?"

The strike has had a crippling affect especially on hospitals, where army medics and volunteers are caring for patients.

Before this latest round of negotiations, Cosatu had threatened a one-day general strike on Thursday if the wage demand of 8.6% was not met, said the BBC's Karen Allen in Johannesburg.

About a million civil servants are already on strike, but Cosatu's total affiliated membership is double that.

It is not yet clear whether they will go ahead with that threat, our correspondent says.

Mr Zuma's call to revive talks was driven by politics as much as economics, she added.

He has been stung by criticism from striking workers that he has been on a trade mission to China - while nurses, teachers and other civil servants have been on the streets demanding more pay.

The president needs to restore relations with the unions, his key power base, ahead of a policy conference of the major ruling party, the African National Congress, in three weeks' time, Karen Allen added.

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