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By Getrude Makhafola, Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi, Canaan Mdletshe and Sipho Masombuka | Jul 09, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

CONSTRUCTION at 2010 World Cup stadiums around the country came to an abrupt halt yesterday, as unionised workers embarked on a strike demanding higher pay that their employers say they cannot afford.

Workers at Soccer City mixed cement that they left to dry in machinery in a deliberate attempt to sabotage the project.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said: "The workers will start work in the morning and come midday the mixed cement and concrete will go to waste because that is when workers will down tools."

Joe Campella, spokesperson for the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec), said the actions were worrying and very costly.

"There is a word for that - it's called sabotage."

Though officials are putting on a brave face, they are concerned that Fifa's tight deadline to complete the stadiums by October might not be met, which would put Africa's first World Cup at risk.

The strike by workers affiliated to NUM and the Building, Construction and Allied Workers Union has also affected the Gautrain project in Gauteng, Eskom's new power stations, the Coega oil refinery outside Port Elizabeth, King Shaka Airport in Durban, as well as mining, construction companies and road builders.

"We want 13percent or nothing," said NUM Gauteng secretary Boy Mtsi.

Employers, represented by Safcec, have rejected demands for a 13percent increase. They upped their previous offer of a 10percent increase to 10,4percent.

Additional benefits workers are demanding include being paid when they don't work on rainy days, six months maternity leave, with full pay, for pregnant women and a healthcare facility at every construction site.

Workers won't be paid while they are on strike.

Bhekani Ngcobo, NUM's chief negotiator in Durban, would not rule out a possibility of fresh negotiations.

"The strike continues unless the employers come up with a better offer," he said.

Seshoka said the government, Safcec, the World Cup organising committee and unions would meet today to resolve the impasse.

Ngcobo said workers at most of the 2010 infrastructures projects earned R14 an hour, about R2550 a month.

The local organising committee said yesterday it was concerned about the strike and hoped that the unions and the construction companies would reach an agreement.

The government's 2010 construction programmes would be affected if the strike lasted more than a week, Deputy Minister of Public Works Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu warned yesterday.

Despite the gloomy situation, Bogopane-Zulu said the strike would not affect the country's readiness for the 2010 World Cup.

NUM was given the go-ahead to strike by the Labour Court on Monday.

Construction workers marched to Safa offices next to the calabash-shaped stadium to hand a memorandum to its vice president Irvin Khoza but he was not there.

Road builders, next to the stadium and employed by Group Five, downed tools and joined the stadium workers.

Grinaker LTA and Interbeton hold the contract to rebuild Soccer City, formerly known as FNB Stadium.

The stadium is 90percent complete and will host the opening and closing matches of the soccer spectacle.


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