Withdrawals from strike by two unions a move to placate some members

Khanyisile Nkosi

Khanyisile Nkosi

The decision by two independent unions to withdraw from the national strike does not mean there is split among striking unions, a labour law expert said yesterday.

Sandile July, a labour lawyer, said there was nothing wrong with the decision by the Health and other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) and the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) to end the strike.

"The unions may push for one view but they have different mandates from their members. It is expected that at the end of the day, unions may come to different conclusions," he said.

Members of Hospersa are expected to return to work after their decision to accept the government's offer of a 7,5 percent wage increase.

Rifos Mahlaki of Hospersa said his union's members were "happy" with the tabled offer.

He said the wage hike, coupled with other benefits the government had proposed, would give most members salary adjustments of up to 25 percent.

"We are ready to sign," he said.

Dave Balt, president of Naptosa, said the union was withdrawing from the strike to "maintain unity" among its members.

"Our members in the inland provinces are on holiday, while members in the coastal provinces, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, have been forced to return to work because of intimidation.

"We want to be unified in the way we approach the strike, that's why we are suspending it for now.

"Because we are rejecting the government's offer, we also want to see what other unions will do during the 21 days in which we are expected to respond. We are not going to sign because the offer on the table is not enough," said Balt.

Spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions Patrick Craven said no Cosatu-affiliated union had agreed to sign the government's offer. He said the unions would not sign any agreement until they had consulted their members.

Hospersa and Naptosa were within their "democratic right" to make their own decisions, said Craven.

He said the unions had maintained a unified approach since the strike began on June 1.

The unions will reconvene tomorrow to discuss the government's offer. They have dropped their demand from a 12 percent wage increase to nine percent.

The government says it will not improve on its latest offer of a 7,5 percent increase.

Tony Twine, director and senior economist at Econometrix, said the strikers were losing about R1,7 billion a week in salaries and wages.