July 17, 2011 2:20:21 PM
* Workers return to work from Monday
* Solidarity union launches strike at Sasol, PetroSA (Adds details, Sasol strike)
By Tiisetso Motsoeneng
JOHANNESBURG, July 17 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of workers ended a two-week pay strike in the South African steel and engineering sector on Sunday while petroleum workers plan to widen a week-long walkout that left hundreds of the nation's fuel pumps dry, union leaders said.
Steel workers accepted a 10 percent wage rise from the employers' body, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa had initially demanded a 13 percent increase while SEIFSA's original offer was a 7 percent rise.
"Workers will therefore return to work in the next 48 hours starting on Monday," NUMSA spokesman Castro Ngobese said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the pay strike in the domestic petroleum sector is expected to widen from Monday after trade union Solidarity said on Sunday its mostly skilled members at petrochemical group Sasol will join the industrial action that left hundreds of fuel pumps dry.
"It is expected their plants will come to a standstill as almost all of the technical and strategic posts at these plants are filled by Solidarity members," the union said in a statement.
South African unions and employers are locked in their mid-year bargaining session known as "strike season", with many labour groups seeking wage increases that far exceed inflation.
Production losses in the steel sector are expected to be substantial although top makers of metal ArcelorMittal South Africa and Evraz Highveld Steel & Vanadium were not affected as they negotiate directly with their employees.
The 10 percent increment is above the inflation rate of around 7 percent and raises worries about inflation and interest rates outlook in Africa's biggest economy.
Some 70,000 workers, led by the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU), in the fuel industry have been on strike since Monday demanding a 13 percent wage increases, above the 4 to 7 percent offered by employers.
Solidarity members at Sasol will join CEPPWAWU from Monday in a strike that has delayed fuel deliveries and sparked panic-buying at service stations.
"One of the reasons why the strike has become so drawn out is because Solidarity members are still keeping production going at plants," said Dirk Hermann, Solidarity's deputy general secretary.
"Paradoxically, the sooner Solidarity joins the strike, the sooner it will be over." (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng)