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Strike halts most S.African metal, engineering work

From Reuters and other press-associations there are news from South Africa, that ome 260,000 workers went on strike at 9,000 South African metal and engineering firms on Monday, bringing most of the industry to a halt, a union said on Monday.

Trade union Solidarity said most workers in the heavily unionised industry had joined the strike and thousands held rallies in Johannesburg and other main cities to demand better pay and to highlight a skills shortage in the country.

But although the strike is open-ended and continues on Tuesday, Solidarity said employers had indicated they may be willing to raise their offers and return to the negotiating table.

"We are confident that a solution might come soon," Dick Hermann, deputy secretary general of Solidarity said.

The strike comes after South African civil servants downed tools for four weeks in June, shutting schools and hospital wards, and exposing sharp political division within the ruling ANC and its labour allies.

Africa's biggest steel maker Mittal Steel South Africa said it had not been affected by the strike because it negotiates wage deals for permanent employees separately, and dismissed concerns contract workers may go on strike.

"Everyone who was meant to be at work is at work," said William Maisela, head of labour relations at Mittal. "We have no strike here."

Highveld Steel & Vanadium (Highveld), the country's second largest steel maker after Mittal SA, also said it had not been affected by the strike. An official at Highveld, 54.1 percent owned by Russian steel maker Evraz Group, also said the company negotiates its workers' wage deals separately.

Solidarity said on Sunday the strike would affect firms including Bell Equipment and the Scaw Metals Group, owned by mining group Anglo American Plc.

Anglo American spokeswoman Anne Dunn said 79 percent of workers on the dayshift at Scaw Metals were on strike but said the impact for the Anglo group as a whole was minimal since the unit was so small. She said it was too early to gauge the effect on production.

No one at Bell could immediately be reached for comment.

Police are expecting some 22,000 striking workers to march in Johannesburg city centre on Monday, with other rallies planned around the country, SAPA news agency said.

Talks hit a deadlock after firms offered a 7.3-7.8 percent wage hike against union demands for 10 percent.

The unions argue South Africa must pay workers more to halt a brain drain that that is harming government efforts to improve infrastructure in Africa's biggest economy ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

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