Telkom workers to extend strike

TELKOM employees are due to resume work today but have threatened to intensify the strike if the company fails to comply with their demands.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) held protests against Telkom on Monday and yesterday in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Western Cape.

In Gauteng chaos was averted by the police when more than 1000 strikers belonging to CWU blockaded traffic by sitting in the middle of roads and marching through the streets of Pretoria to the Telkom headquarters yesterday.

CWU chairperson Clyde Mervin said: "The company executives are paying themselves a lot of money, while the workers are getting less. But they want to pay the workers even less than the present inflation."

He said the workers were now demanding 8percent from 7,5percent just 24 hours before and the adjustment of salary scales.

The union warned that failure by Telkom management to address their demands would lead to their reverting to their previous position of a 13 percent wage increase.

Organised business associations across the country were concerned about the strikes, but were cautious about raising the alarm.

Durban Chamber of Commerce chief executive Gugu Buthelezi said: "Telecommunications is the backbone of any business. The computer infrastructure we rely on is provided by Telkom and when the wheels stop turning it harms the economy."

President of the Cape Town Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry Jeremy Wiley said he had noted some of the statements made by the unions with concern.

"In this recessionary climate the last thing businesses need is a disruption of communication between them and their clients."

Chief executive of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry Keith Brebnor said the timing was wrong.

"It's very disappointing for the unions to be using and abusing the best thing to happen to this country to get an advantage, especially after Telkom did so well in providing communications for the Confederations Cup."

Charlotte Mokoena, Telkom's chief of human resources, said out of 23 500 Telkom employees, about 21000 were union staff and that only 7700 were CWU members.

"Our records indicate that, nationally, about 1600 of bargaining unit employees participated in (yesterday's) strike," Mokoena said.

"The South African Communication Workers Union and Solidarity, who represent the rest of our employees, have already accepted and signed the company's offer."

The union has given Telkom three days to respond, failing which a national strike will go ahead.

Telkom said it would only reconvene negotiations next Tuesday.