South Africa's public sector unions representing some 1.2 million workers have rejected a wage offer by the government and said on Thursday they could hold a national strike during the soccer World Cup.
The state employees are the latest workers to threaten industrial action that could disrupt the world's largest sporting event staged for the first time on African soil, and could embarrass President Jacob Zuma and his government.
The unions said the workers, including nurses, police officers, teachers and other government officials such as immigration staff turned down a 6.2 percent wage raise, demanding an above inflation 8.5 percent salary increase.
"If the conciliation efforts fail next (week on) Friday, we will have no choice but to strike in the middle of the World Cup," Manie de Clerq, secretary-general of the Public Servants Association told Reuters.
De Clerq said a potential strike could include immigration officials, leaving the country's ports of entry short-staffed at a time when hundreds of thousands of visitors are descending on South Africa for the tournament.
"It is unfortunate and we don't want to spoil the games but you can't give train drivers big increases and ignore state workers," said de Clerq referring to above inflation increases given to workers at the country's logistics group Transnet.
Other union officials said they would strike only if all else failed.
"Strike action is our last resort and we are exploring opportunities," said Sizwe Pamla of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU).