A one-day national strike organized by the main trade union movement got off to a patchy start yesterday, with early indications showing the mining industry was one of the worst affected sectors.
Many miners stayed away to protest more than 40,000 layoffs in the past three years. But few disruptions were reported in the transportation and other sectors.
The Congress of Trade Union Movements of South Africa called the strike to protest poverty and unemployment. The union is demanding the creation of decent and secure jobs and wants employers to stop using casual labor.
"As a result tens of thousands of workers and their families are forced to survive in abysmal poverty," it said in a statement.
Official unemployment is just below 30 percent, but the true level is believed to be nearer 40 percent as many people have simply given up looking for work and so are not included in the statistics.
The union said far more resources should be devoted to job creation projects, training programs and the provision of basic services.
Government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe said authorities were working on initiatives to create jobs and cut poverty and that the strike action would undermine this.
"It is the government's firm view that such strike action is not only unwarranted, but also counterproductive," he told journalists after a Cabinet meeting.
The unions said they would demand more protection for industries like clothing and textiles "which face obliteration in the face of unfair competition from China," with an estimated 62,000 jobs being lost over the past three years.
The National Union of Metalworkers of SA said it would concentrate its protests on Daimler Chrysler SA because of impending redundancies and alleged racist practices by management.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union said its members in essential services who were not allowed to strike would wear stickers to show their support.
South African airports continued to function normally, according to a spokesman, as did most train and bus services.
There were no disruptions in schools or hospitals.
Protest marches were due to take place in several cities. Authorities in Cape Town withdrew permission for a planned demonstration after striking security workers went on the rampage in the city center Tuesday, smashing shop and car windows and attacking pedestrians and tourists.
Police were on full alert in Cape Town yesterday.