South African police fire rubber bullets to disperse striking workers

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 03, 2014 6:27 AM

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African police fired rubber bullets to disperse striking workers blocking the entrance to the construction site of Eskom's Medupi power station in northern Limpopo province on Thursday, a police spokeswoman said.

More than 220,000 metal and engineering workers led by South Africa's biggest union, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), went on an open-ended strike on Tuesday to demand higher wages.

"A few hundred workers were blocking one of the entrances to Medupi power plant and we had to use rubber bullets to disperse them," said police spokeswoman Ronel Otto, adding that the situation had been contained by the afternoon on Thursday.

NUMSA is due to meet the main employers representative body, Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA), later on Thursday to try to end the latest strike that economists say could badly hit Africa's most advanced economy.

The stoppage is costing South Africa some 300 million rand ($27.84 million) a day in lost output, and comes in the wake of a damaging five-month platinum strike that has dented investor confidence and dragged the economy into a quarterly contraction.

NUMSA is demanding wage increases of between 12 and 15 percent - at least double the official inflation rate - from employers represented by SEIFSA.

Another employer body, National Employers Association of South Africa (NEASA), which is due to meet NUMSA on Friday, said its members would not agree to a double-digit wage increase.

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"My position is I cannot go beyond eight percent," Gerhard Papenfus, chief executive at NEASA told Reuters. "It would be irresponsible. This industry is in severe difficulty and 10 percent is irresponsible."

NEASA represents close to 3,000 employers, mainly small and medium-sized businesses.

($1 = 10.7754 South African Rand)

(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)