Striking workers tell of their struggle to make ends meet

STRIKING construction workers, speaking outside Durban's 2010 Moses Mabhida Stadium, told of their hardships in trying to live on R2500 a month.

Thousands of workers downed tools on Wednesday, halting progress at stadiums being built and refurbished for the World Cup next year as well as at other large infrastructure works around the country.

Protesters began demonstrating at 9am under the watchful eye of the police. They sang liberation songs, calling on the "greedy to give us our money". Passing motorists flashed their car lights, hooted and waved in support.

A high-profile meeting, which included Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana, 2010 local organising committee, employers' representative South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors and unions, tried to resolve the dispute at the offices of the commission for conciliation and arbitration in Johannesburg.

The workers are demanding a package of benefits that includes a 13percent wage increase. The employers are offering 10,4percent and say the package the workers are demanding will increase their wage bill by 65percent.

But the employers' protestations rang hollow to the mostly rural strikers, who say they have to walk long distances to work so that they had enough money remaining from their paltry wages to send to their families.

Thabo Mavuso, chairperson of the National Union of Mineworkers at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, said their hard work and dedication was visible from the huge progress on the stadium.

"When the world meets here at this stadium they will be admiring its beauty, not knowing the hardship that the builders went through," he said.

Mavuso said they would continue their protest until their demands were met.

Construction worker Patrick Ndlongolo, who is from Eastern Cape and a father of seven, rents a room for R500 a month.

Of the R2000 left from his salary he puts aside R300 for transport. He spends about R200 on groceries. The rest of the money he sends home to cover the needs of his wife and children.

"Most of the time I run out of food during the month," Ndlongolo says. "Sometimes I am forced to work the whole day without eating anything. My wife and children also run out of food at times.

"I am not the only one who often goes hungry on the site. Sometimes we all just sit around at lunchtime and do nothing because we have no food."

Workers lamented that their bosses "had no clue" about their difficulties.

Another worker, Mandla Ntuli, said: "We use our hands to lay bricks. We carry heavy loads. It is not easy. We work in the rain and cold weather, but only permanent employees get the all-weather jackets. Some workers have been here for three years but are still temporary labourers.

"The bosses must come and see for themselves how bad the situation is."