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South African unions reject government offer

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The government had upped its offer to a 7.5-percent wage increase
  • Unions are demanding an 8.6-percent raise
  • The massive strike has been crippling the country for nearly two weeks

Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) -- South African union members Thursday rejected an improved wage offer from the government as a public sector strike continues to cripple the country.

The government had upped its offer to a 7.5-percent wage increase and an 800-rand ($110) housing allowance.

The unions were demanding an 8.6-percent wage increase and a 1,000-rand ($138) housing allowance.

After union members rejected the offer in a vote, leaders met Thursday to determine how to move forward, said Patrick Craven, a spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union, one of COSATU'S largest members, said there was some confusion over the offer.

In addition to more housing allowance, the government is offering to set up a program that will make it easier for public workers to buy houses, according to a spokesman for NEHAWU.

Video: S. Africa labor dispute continues
Video: Strike strains government
Video: Pretoria ups offer to strikers

The confusion was caused by the limited time frame allowed to discuss the offer with union members, said Sizwe Pamla, the spokesman.

COSATU is the main body representing all the unions and negotiating with the government. NEHAWU says it is the largest trade union in COSATU.

NEHAWU members will discuss the government offer with union leaders and hope to reach an agreement over the weekend, Pamla said.

Union workers have been on strike for nearly two weeks.

The government had previously said that with a million jobs lost from the economy in the past year, it cannot afford to raise employee wages.

Nurses and hospital staff are among thousands of public sector workers striking, and the lack of health care professionals on the is blamed for putting lives at risks.