Strike will go ahead if talks fail, says Cosatu

Waghied Misbach and Ido Lekota

Waghied Misbach and Ido Lekota

The South African Communist Party yesterday threw the ball into the government's court, saying only its negotiators held the key to averting a strike that will see millions of public servants taking to the streets on Friday.

The SACP's stance comes as government and union negotiators hold crucial talks in Centurion, Pretoria, today in a last bid to avert the strike.

"We hope the necessity for a strike can be averted, but this will require that government negotiates seriously and with strategic understanding of what is at stake," the SACP said.

What was at stake, according to the party, was a situation where the "apartheid wage gap between the lowest and highest paid persists, and in many cases has worsened in the public sector over the last years".

The SACP said it did not want the public service to be disrupted, "but if the government does not improve its offer we will go out in full support of the strike".

The unions want a 12percent wage increase along with improvements in housing and medical aid, while government has offered 6percent along with other improvements staggered over four years.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven told Sowetan yesterday that despite talks going on, Cosatu and other public sector unions still had plans in place to go on strike.

"Nothing has changed," said Craven.

If the talks remain deadlocked, the strike will be one of the largest in the history of the public sector as 16 public sector unions are united in their demands.

On Friday the unions handed their demands to Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser- Moleketi. The minister has said government will not be able to meet the unions' demands, pointing out that the cost of the unions' demands would amount to R198billion. The government's offer translated to R9,3billion.

Meanwhile, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande has described the spat between President Thabo Mbeki and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi as "unfortunate".

Nzimande said, as part of the tripartite alliance, the SACP believed that disagreements among allies should "never be personalised or lead to questioning of other people's political credentials".

Mbeki attacked Vavi in his online column on Friday, accusing him of mobilising citizens against the government. Mbeki implied Vavi was serving the interests of the Democratic Alliance.

Mbeki was responding to media reports quoting Vavi as saying claims about an economic boom were part of government's propaganda similar to that used by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

Cosatu fired back, describing Mbeki's attack as "vicious, personal and unjustified". It said Mbeki disregarded a recent agreement not to comment on statements made by either without verifying them first.