Sunday, August 22, 2010

South Africa Wins Injunction Against Striking Workers

21 August 2010
Last updated at 13:18 ET

South Africa wins injunction against striking workers

The injunction suggests a deepening rift between strikers and the government

The South African government has been granted an injunction prohibiting workers in essential services from continuing their national strike.

More than one million civil servants began an indefinite strike on Wednesday, calling for higher wages.

The government said the definition of essential services included hospitals and prisons.

On Friday, the health minister said striking workers who interrupted vital medical care were guilty of murder.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher, in Johannesburg, says although the injunction only reiterates what is in the national law it is an indication of how far apart the two sides are.

It appears the government will not budge on its 7% offer, he says, with the strike likely to resume in full force on Monday.

Our correspondent says the South African constitution deems essential services those that cover life and death situations, so doctors and nurses could be included. It will be a question of whether the government will be prepared to arrest them if they disobey.

The unions say they will not instruct their members to go back to work.

Trade union spokesman, Mugwena Maluleke, told the BBC: "We will not advise them to go back to work, because their employer is not sensitive to their issues."

However, Chris Kloppers, spokesman for the Independent Labour Caucus, one of the unions involved, told Reuters news agency it was "absolutely necessary" to reach an agreement on the provision of essential services.

Holding out

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi has said that staff who block hospital gates, intimidate staff and force health workers to join the strike are carrying out actions tantamount to murder.

Mr Motsoaledi said: "A person is put under anaesthesia in theatre. There's a doctor and an anaesthetist, and they come in and grab the anaesthetist and drive him out of theatre. What do you describe that as?"

There has been little sign of progress in pay talks with the unions affiliated with Cosatu, South Africa's main union federation, holding out for an 8.6% pay rise.

The government says it cannot afford to deliver wage increases that amount to twice the rate of inflation.

President Jacob Zuma has defended the unions' right to strike but also urged for them to end violence and intimidation.

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