By Xinhua Writer Gao Yuan
CAPE TOWN, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- More than 140,000 South African workers in the construction industry on Monday downed tools to demand higher pay amid a new wave of strikes sweeping South Africa, as the country struggles to recover from last year's labor unrest.
The workers are joining more than 30,000 auto workers who have been on a strike since last Monday.
Also on Monday, hundreds of airport workers embarked on a strike, causing delays at Johannesburg's main international airport.
Monday was also the day set by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to start nationwide strikes in the energy and mining sectors.
Widespread strikes prompted the government to issue a warning that those who contravene the country's laws "will face the full might of the law."
"Whilst every citizen has the constitutional right to protest, it must be done within the ambit of the law," acting Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) CEO Phumla Williams said.
"Government notes the number of strikes that are currently taking place across the country and calls on all workers to execute it non-violently," Williams said.
However, violence was reported in a construction site in Johannesburg where workers staged a strike. Seven workers reportedly were stabbed by unidentified assailants. The NUM condemned the violent strike action, saying if its members were to blame they would face disciplinary action.
South Africa is currently in the turbulent "strike season" when employers and workers are renewing their contracts.
The government encourages workers to engage in meaningful dialogue and to speedily reach an agreement, Williams said.
Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) said it "fully backs" the workers in their disputes in the construction and gold mining sectors, and with the electricity parastatal Eskom.
The union federation called on all workers to act in line with its slogan - "an injury to one is an injury to all!"
"If these employers claim that they cannot afford to pay a decent wage to these workers, we should recall that several of them featured in the case before the Competition Tribunal and were found guilty of collusive tendering and price-fixing, which led to massively increased profits," COSATU said.
The union pledged its full support for any action to save jobs, and urged all workers to unite in solidarity with the NUM in its struggle to win substantial pay increases for workers, especially for the lowest paid, in these highly dangerous and strategic industries.
The NUM demanded a 15-percent pay rise across the board -- a minimum wage of 7,300 rands (about 730 U.S. dollars) a month for workers in the mining sector and 3,500 rands (about 350 dollars) for workers in the energy sector.
Employers, however, are offering a six-percent increase in the gold sector and 5.6-percent increase in the energy sector, citing financial strains for their reluctance to meet the workers' demand.
The FTSE/JSE Africa Construction & Building Materials Index, which groups six construction companies, has declined 4.9 percent this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. This compares with a 9.3 percent gain in the 166-member FTSE/JSE Africa All- Share Index.
In the auto industry, which accounts for six percent of the country's annual income, the workers demand a 14-percent pay increase, but employers first offered an eight-percent rise and later adjusted it to 10 percent.
"There was a revised offer that was made on Friday, and we have had to consult with the workers if this was enough to call off the strike," said Castro Ngobese, spokesperson of the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA), which organized the auto strike.
The auto strike has caused a loss of billions of rands, or about 600 million rands (about 60 million U.S. dollars) in daily loss in production, according to the National Association Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA).
The new wave of strikes came days after South Africa marked the one-year anniversary of the Marikana tragedy on Aug. 16, in which 44 people were killed in clashes linked to labor unrest in the mining sector. Among those killed, 34 were shot dead by police.
Due to strikes and drops in prices of metals, mining companies in the country are seeking ways to reduce costs through retrenchments, with Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) taking the most recent move to cut 69,000 jobs.
Amplats' move further angered the workers. In its Monday statement, COSATU called the move "a form of blackmail to 'persuade' workers to accept a lower pay rise.
The strikes will add strain to the country's economy, which performed poorly in the first quarter this year, registering only 0.9 percent in growth.