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Police fire rubber bullets at civil servants on strike

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-19

Police in South Africa have fired at striking teachers and health workers with rubber bullets and water canons after failing to contain street protests. Some one million civil servants are on strike over pay.

AFP - Doctors took over cleaning duties and army nurses delivered babies at public hospitals in South Africa on Thursday, the second day of a strike by unions representing 1.3 million civil servants.

  
Several confrontations erupted between police and public employees, who began an open-ended strike Wednesday to demand higher wages.
  
In Johannesburg, police fired water cannons and rubber bullets Thursday to block some 150 striking workers from entering the 3,000-bed Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which serves the sprawling township of Soweto.
  
Local media said the scene was repeated at a second hospital across the city.
  
Police also fired rubber bullets at striking teachers who tried to cross a barricade near a Johannesburg highway.
  
In Durban, health officials called in the military to help provide care as nurses joined the strike.
  
Health workers, like police and immigration agents, are considered essential services and are not allowed to strike. But a spokeswoman at Durban's 922-bed King Edward VIII Hospital said all staff but doctors had joined the stay-away.
  
Doctors were feeding patients, wheeling them to their beds and even cleaning the hospital, spokeswoman Nonto Beko said.
  
"We basically do not have anyone in the hospital except the doctors and the nurses from the army. People are all out striking," Beko told AFP.
  
"We are in the process of getting private cleaners to clean the hospital because the doctors have been basically doing everything."
  
The province's top health official, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, criticised health workers' decision to strike.
  
"While we respect the right of public servants to engage the employer and struggle for their rights, that cannot be equated or made to surpass the right of ordinary citizens to health care," he told government news agency BuaNews.
  
But one hospital clerical worker said she was sticking with the strike because her salary isn't enough for her to live in a house.
  
"It's difficult. I'm living in a shack. I can't afford to buy a house," she said, asking not to be named.
  
Cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko said the military would remain on stand-by to fill in where needed.
  
"The defence force will be on stand-by to provide assistance in emergency and life-threatening situations such as providing urgently needed medical care," he told reporters.
  
Rowdy strikes are annual events in South Africa, where contracts come up for renewal at mid-year. This year public workers postponed their strike threat until after the World Cup, a gesture that did little to close the gap with government over wages.
  
Public unions are demanding an 8.6 percent wage increase -- more than twice the rate of inflation -- and a monthly housing allowance of 1,000 rands (137 dollars, 107 euros).
  
The government's latest offer is a seven percent increase and a 700-rand housing allowance, which it said would cost the state five billion rands.
  
The public services ministry estimated it would cost 15 billion rands to meet workers' demands and said the government's offer would be implemented unilaterally if unions failed to sign within 21 days.
  
Government argues that the unbudgeted increases will hurt public services as President Jacob Zuma's administration is under pressure to provide expanded access to housing, water and electricity for the poorest South Africans.
  
South Africa's unions are politically powerful and a key ally of Zuma's ruling African National Congress, but tensions have erupted over both wages and general economic policy.
  
Anger over the wage offer is fuelled in part by what workers see as a flashy display of wealth by senior government officials on expensive cars and luxury hotels.

 

Date created : 2010-08-19

  • SOUTH AFRICA

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