Striking civil servants’ unions held a second day of meetings in South Africa yesterday as an impasse between government and workers dragged out a crippling 17-day strike.
With no new meeting between government and unions scheduled until Monday, the strike, which has shut down schools and crippled hospitals across the country, looked set to continue through the weekend.
As union leaders held closed-door discussions and workers took to the streets for fresh marches in Johannesburg and Pretoria yesterday, the government said it had no more room to maneuver.
Unions on Wednesday rejected an increased offer.
South African Public Service Minister Richard Baloyi, who says the government’s latest offer would already force it to borrow money to pay workers, insisted yesterday that negotiators could not revise their offer again.
“If you revise, it is when you’ve got room to maneuver, but if you don’t have room to maneuver, you have no space to move to,” he told public broadcaster SABC radio.
“Even with this [offer], we indicated that we had to channel money that was meant for other service priorities in order to accommodate, in order to find a solution to save South Africa from this embarrassment that we are going through, from this frustration of innocent people that we are going through,” he said.
The country’s largest labor federation, Cosatu, said union leaders would continue meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss the way forward.
The Independent Labour Caucus, the other union umbrella group, said on Thursday it was still consulting its members on the offer, but on the basis of votes counted so far, the result, expected yesterday, would be against the offer.
The strike has paralyzed public schools and hospitals, with the military sending some 4,000 soldiers to provide essential medical services, security and cleaning at 62 hospitals across the country.
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry said on Thursday the shutdown was taking a toll on the country’s economy.
“The benefits that South Africa should have gained from the successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup are being seriously eroded by the current activities of labor,” the organization said.
“There appears to be scant concern for the negative impact that the present tide of protest action has on the South African economy and the ripple effect that these actions are bound to have on economic growth, employment, job creation and both domestic and foreign direct investment,” it said.