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South Africa Facing Major Economic Shutdown as Health Workers are Sacked En Masse

South Africa could experience a total economic shutdown as some 2 million public servants take to the streets over an ongoing wage dispute . 'It's going to be a total shutdown tomorrow in public services and the economy. It's gonna be a massive strike involving marches in major cities and pickets outside government buildings,' said Willy Madisha, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) labor federation had warned Tuesday.

The comment came after yet another deadlock in the wage dispute between government and striking unions affiliated to COSATU who have rejected the government's latest wage offer. The government's offer has increased from an inflation-linked 6 pct to 7.25 pct after a week of strikes which have crippled hospitals and schools around the country, while unions are holding out for 10 percent, above the rate of inflation which stands at around seven percent.

'We have unanimously decided not to agree to the reshuffling of the offer in the form of a proposal for a 7.25 percent wage increase for public servants which has been brokered by the mediators,' Madisha told reporters in Centurion, on the outskirts of the capital, Pretoria.

Meanwhile security in ports and jails was expected to be compromised as some soldiers and police officers joined in the strike. South African Police Union general secretary Les Maseng said some of their members would join the strike while soldiers, whose colleagues are being used as reserve labor in hospitals, would picket outside parliament.

Madisha said regardless of the 'unfortunate' situation they still hoped a solution would be found to end the impasse which started on June 1. But he said progress could be hampered by the government's decision to dismiss thousands of striking healthcare workers who refused to heed a court order to return to work last week.

Thousands of essential health professionals -- including doctors and nurses who stayed away -- were among the 600 given letters of dismissal by last night. The strike by hundreds of thousands of public servants affiliated to the main labour federation, COSATU, has been marred by violence and intimidation by union hardliners, leading to severe crippling of health services and widespread school closures.

Patients have been turned away from hospitals, while exams have also been postponed after many schools closed. COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven said the dismissals of health care workers was an act of intimidation by the government and it would make workers extremely angry. "There is no question that we will be demanding that these letters be withdrawn as part of any settlement," he told the SAPA news agency.

Meantime Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang appealed to striking health workers on Tuesday to return to work, reminding them of their ethical responsibilities. Speaking during debate on her budget vote in the National Council of Provinces, she thanked all those health workers who had remained true to their calling and did not go on strike or intimidate others wanting to work during the current industrial action by the public sector.

"While we would like our health workers to earn a decent living, it is important that they respect the needs of the patients. "Health is an essential service. This is well known to all health workers," she said.

Tshabalala-Msimang also expressed her gratitude to the South African Military Health Services of the SA National Defence Force, the private health sector, the retired nurses and trainee nurses, as well as members of the community, who were helping to ensure health facilities remained open and were able to deliver a service. With the government apparently upping the ante by going in for mass sacking, the situation is expected to deteriorate further in South Africa.


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