South African workers agree to end strike

JOHANNESBURG - South African construction workers have agreed to end a week-long strike that has disrupted work on stadiums for the 2010 World Cup, the main union involved in the dispute said on Wednesday. The National Union of Mineworkers, which includes building workers, said details of a wage agreement would be unveiled when the deal is signed at midday on Wednesday. "We have an agreement ... The strike will be called off immediately after the signing and the workers will be expected to report for work on Thursday," Thamsanqa Matosa, deputy president of the National Union of Mineworkers, told Reuters. Workers have been striking for a week, paralysing work on 2010 World Cup stadiums and on the mass transit Gautrain high-speed rail project, serving the area around Johannesburg. The strike has raised concerns about whether South Africa will be ready for the tournament and hit shares in construction companies such as Murray & Roberts, WBHO and Group Five. It also comes as unions threaten strikes in a clutch of important sectors, including gold, raising pressure on new President Jacob Zuma, who took office in May and is battling the first recession in 17 years. The NUM earlier said workers and employers had agreed on a 12 percent wage increase but were still arguing over efforts by companies to ban any further strikes until after the showcase tournament. The union initially demanded 13 percent. Matosa declined to comment on what level of wage increase had been agreed and on whether the workers would be blocked from further industrial action until after next year's event. "Those details will be revealed after the signing," he said. The unions helped propel Zuma to power and have been emboldened by him taking office, demanding big wage increases and threatening strikes across several sectors in recent weeks. But Zuma has little room for manoeuvre given the lacklustre economy. Companies, too, are battling a slump in demand and are under pressure from shareholders to curtail costs. Unions announced strikes in the paper, energy and chemical industries on Tuesday and said action in the important gold sector was "highly likely."