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By ESPN Staff
Jul 9, 2009

Strike could threaten 2010 World Cup

JOHANNESBURG -- Hundreds of striking workers demonstrated at World Cup stadiums across South Africa on Thursday, with some stoning cars and passers-by as they demanded higher wages for those building the stadiums and rail stations for Africa's first World Cup.

No one was hurt in the second day of the strike, police said.

Union spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said 70,000 workers were involved in the strike and said it would continue until employers meet their demands. Construction workers want a 13 percent pay increase; employers are offering 10.4 percent.

Joe Campanella of the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, which represents construction companies, said 25,000 workers were on strike Thursday, up from 11,000 on Wednesday.

Negotiations to resolve a pay dispute that has halted work on World Cup stadiums began Thursday morning and continued all day. Labor Minister Membathisi Mdladlana was meeting with trade union and construction company representatives as well as officials from the local World Cup organizing committee.

There are fears that a prolonged strike could derail already tight schedules for construction projects supposed to be complete by mid-December. The monthlong 2010 World Cup, beginning in June, is the first on the continent. It is expected to attract up to half a million people and be seen by hundreds of millions worldwide.

South Africa's minimum wage is about $200 a month but the unions complain that some workers earn only about $1.50 an hour and others $5 a week.

South Africa is upgrading five stadiums and building five new ones for the World Cup. Four of the five upgrades and a new stadium in Port Elizabeth are already finished. The strikers also are working on a new airport for the port city of Durban, power stations and a rapid rail line from the international airport to Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital.

Strike violence erupted Thursday in the coastal city of Cape Town, where striking workers outside a rail station under construction suddenly began stoning passers-by and cars, said police Inspector November Filander.

Police fired a stun grenade to disperse the workers, who then joined other strikers outside the half-built Green Point stadium. Work on that 68,000-seat stadium started late and progress has been slowed by two previous strikes.

On Thursday, about 200 protesters tried to get into the stadium, apparently to harass colleagues not respecting the strike. Police on horseback and on foot turned them away.

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