South Africa's biggest labor federation, Cosatu, this week rallied its members to join a strike by about 1.3 million state workers over wage and benefit issues.
The strikers include teachers, healthcare workers, police, customs officials and clerks. The government has rejected their demands for an 8.6 percent wage increase and a 1,000-rand ($136) monthly housing allowance, as unaffordable, offering 7 percent.
Cosatu unions will hold a secondary sympathy strike and will "shut down" the country on Sept. 2, Zwelinzima Vavi, the federation's general secretary, said in a press interview.
Cosatu claims to have about 2 million workers, several hundred thousand of whom have already walked off the job.
"We are demanding that government immediately move to make a new offer," Vavi said. The government spends "millions of rand on luxury vehicles. This is the case of the shepherd feeding himself and forgetting about the lambs. Our demands are legitimate."
Lebohang Pheko, a South African policy analyst, called the striking public workers' demand for a pay hike and housing allowance justified. The current crisis is the outcome of years of delay in implementing promises of past years, she said.
Meanwhile, the 250,000-member National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union disputed government charges of violence by its members. "Striking workers exercising their legal rights have come under attack from police with intimidation, rubber bullets and arrests," the union said. "The entire government continues to fail the poor South Africans by failing to provide the necessary leadership to resolve the impasse."