South African construction workers went on an indefinite strike Wednesday at stadiums being built for the 2010 World Cup — a move that could derail Africa’s historic first World Cup tournament.
Thousands of workers at stadiums across the country put down their tools after wage negotiations deadlocked earlier this week. Workers are demanding a 13 percent pay increase while employers are offering 10.4 percent.
The strike could delay completion of flagship projects such as the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg and stadiums in Cape Town and Durban. Other stadiums in smaller towns have also been affected.
The venues need to be completed by December to meet deadlines set by the game’s ruling body FIFA before the tournament kicks off in June 2010.
Lesiba Seshoka of the National Union of Mineworkers, which represents construction workers, said 70,000 workers were involved in the strike, which would continue until employers met their demands.
He said the union was not worried about the completion of the stadiums — that was a concern of the tournament’s local organizing committee.
“We are worried about our families getting food, not a rich man buying a ticket to watch a game,” he said.
Joe Campanella, from the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, which represents construction companies, said only 11,000 workers took part in the strike.
He has said the deal offered by employers amounts to a 65 percent increase, including benefits.
However, the unions have complained that some workers are earning about $1.50 an hour and others $5 a week. Workers in South Africa are supposed to earn a minimum wage of about $200 a month.
The strike has been criticized for jeopardizing South Africa’s chances of hosting a successful World Cup — a monthlong event avidly watched by hundreds of millions around the world.
But the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which represents the country’s largest trade union federations, has come out in support of the construction workers and says the dispute is not targeted at the World Cup.
“COSATU, and the construction workers, are as passionate about the 2010 World Cup as anyone, and will do everything possible to ensure its success. But we will not tolerate the stadiums being built by workers who are underpaid or working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions,” the organization said in a statement.
Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local organizing committee, said the strike would soon be resolved and was confident the stadiums will be completed on schedule.
“The construction workers have been the lifeblood of the 2010 FIFA World Cup project. Their hard work has ensured that we are on track to meet our deadlines and that our stadiums will be among the best in the world next year,” he said in a statement.
Patrick Geqeza, a shop steward at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, said he understood the importance of having the World Cup in South Africa and completing the stadiums in time.
“We feel bad about going on strike,” he said, but added there was little alternative.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.