Johannesburg - South Africa's municipal workers kicked off
annual wage negotiations on Monday with a demand for increases nearly three
times the inflation rate, warning of a repeat of strikes that have crippled
public services in recent years.
In a statement, the South African Municipal Workers' Union
(Samwu) said it wanted an annual increase of 15% for its members, compared with
inflation of 6% and against a government offer of 4%.
"Their (the government's) response is tantamount to
declaring war on municipal workers," Samwu, an affiliate of the powerful
Cosatu labour federation, said.
It threatened industrial action as the
"only way for municipal workers to fight for a living wage".
Samwu claims more than 200 000 members, most of them water,
sanitation and refuse workers.
In its budget in February, the Treasury allowed for a 5%
wage increase for public servants, adding that a huge state salary bill was
crowding out investment in infrastructure and other key productive sectors.
Mining firms in one of the world's biggest producers of gold
and platinum were last year forced to award above-inflation pay increases for
two years to end strikes in the sector.
Analysts say union demands for steep pay rises have put a
strain on companies' operating costs, undermining the national drive to slash
high unemployment, currently just above 25% of the labour force.
Traditionally, wage negotiations last several weeks in the
mid-year wage bargaining session known as strike season with unions
often downing tools to back their demands, disrupting mine production and also
hitting services in state hospitals and schools.