S.Africa's World Cup workers to end strike

CAPE TOWN: Workers at South Africa's World Cup stadiums ended a strike on Wednesday as bosses agreed to 12 percent pay rises, allowing FIFA to breathe a sigh of relief less than a year before the event.

The first successful national construction strike was concluded in the early hours of the morning after 15 hours of negotiations as officials scrambled to end the action which threatened completion deadlines at five 2010 venues.

"The construction strike has been called off as of today. Workers will report to their workstations tomorrow morning," said National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Shane Choshane.

He told AFP that several issues had been agreed upon, including a 12 percent pay increase, one percent short of what unions had initially demanded.

The agreements would be signed at midday, ending a week-long strike which saw some 70,000 workers down tools at the 2010 football World Cup venues and other major projects associated with the world's most watched sporting event.

One of the main sticking points during negotiations was employers wanting workers to waive their right to strike for the duration of construction.

"We only hope that the construction industry has learned a lesson, not to take for granted issues of their employees. This is the only way we can avoid strikes," said Choshane.

He said the construction industry had long "taken advantage" of a workforce drawn largely from South Africa's massive unemployed population.

The urgency of getting the World Cup stadiums built on time, to prove that an African country is able to produce the sporting extravaganza, "might be one factor" that pushed bosses to up their wage offer, said Chosane.

South Africa is spending billions of dollars on upgrading infrastructure to accommodate teams and tourists expected to flock into the country, and is keen to quash negativity about its levels of preparedness.

Local Organising Committee chief Danny Jordaan welcomed the decision by workers to call off the strike, and urged construction to get underway again in earnest.

"The agreement gives practical meaning to their commitment to infrastructural development in South Africa, a key to future economic prosperity and stability in our country," he said in a statement.

"...The workers and employers have paved the way to the timely construction of the stadiums to be used during the World Cup next year. Their long hours of negotiations also demonstrated their patriotism and love of the country."

Five stadiums are being built from scratch and five upgraded in nine cities which will host 64 World Cup matches. The government is spending 8.4 billion rand (one billion US dollars) on the stadia.

Stadiums such as Moses Mabhida in Durban and Cape Town's Green Point Stadium were already ahead of schedule and no delays are expected after the strike.

"They will definitely be able to catch up. The time for the presentation of the stadia must be six months earlier (than the event) so they will definitely make up," said Choshane.