Trains halted as strikes spread

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A South African rail and port strike widened yesterday, threatening to bring Africa's biggest economy to a standstill with 2 million train passengers stranded as the industrial action entered its second week. Weekend talks to end the strike over pay at the state-owned logistics group Transnet failed and both the company and unions said no new negotiations were planned.

The strike has dented exports of metals, fruit and wine to customers in Europe and Asia and slowed imports of automotive parts after nearly two-thirds of Transnet's 54,000-strong workforce joined in.

The strike is the latest protest in the country in the run-up to next month's World Cup, and Fifa said imports of some equipment for the event have been affected.

Yesterday the United Transport and Allied Trade Union, and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union widened their strike to include the Passenger Rail Agency, bringing a halt to all commuter rail operations.

The unions want at least a 12 per cent pay rise, while Transnet says it cannot afford more than 11 per cent. Analysts and the central bank have criticised the unions, saying pay rises well above the 5.1 per cent inflation rate would slow South Africa's economic recovery.

The government urged an early resolution to the passenger services action to minimise the impact on commuters and reduce the risk of violence by frustrated passengers.

Economists could not put an exact figure on losses from the strike, especially since many firms had anticipated industrial action and build up their inventories, but some estimated the loss as running into millions of pounds. REUTERS