(CNN) -- Public sector workers went on strike across South Africa Tuesday, closing schools, putting a crimp in hospital staffing and wreaking havoc on a wide array of public services.
As many as 1.3 million people were expected to walk off their jobs. Between 10,000 and 100,000 workers also demonstrated Tuesday across five provinces.
The workers want wage hikes of up to 8.6 percent, about double the rate of inflation, according to the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
They're also looking for improvements to their housing allowance, currently about $70 a person.
The government has offered a an overall 9 percent pay hike in negotiations with the labor group, according to Dumisani Nkwamba, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Service and Administration. Public sector wages make up a third of government spending.
Police say about 10,000 people demonstrated Tuesday in the capital of Pretoria while organizers say the number was closer to 100,000. There was also a large demonstration in Cape Town that included about 15,000. Other locations were Limpopo, KwaZulu Natal, and the North West Province.
Banners at the march in Pretoria read 'Down with poverty wages' and 'Pay peanuts and get monkeys.'
One mother of five who works in court says she takes home 1,000 rand ($145) after taxes. Teachers earn about 4000 rand ($580) a month after taxes.
Unemployment in South Africa stands at 25 percent.
CNN's Diana Magnay contributed to this report.