JOHANNESBURG The South African government and unions representing 1.3 million striking state workers plan talks Monday night following President Jacob Zuma's order to ministers to negotiate immediately to end the walkout.
Union officials hoped Zuma's call and the negotiations will lead to an improved offer to end the labor dispute that has closed schools, prevented treatment at hospitals and harmed investors sentiment toward Africa's largest economy.
"I have reason to be optimistic because the employer called us to a meeting," said Manie De Clerq, a spokesman for the Public Servants Association.
The meeting is planned for 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT).
Fikile Majola, secretary-general of the NEHAWU union, said he expects the government to bring a new offer to the table.
So far, the government has said it cannot afford the demand for increases of more than double inflation to end the strike, which threatens to spread across the economy.
Zuma's spokesman said the president was particularly concerned about the impact on health and education.
"The president's view is that the strike must end as soon as possible, in the next couple of days," Zizi Kodwa said, adding that Zuma had spoken to government ministers at the weekend to tell them to resume talks.
South Africa's biggest strike since 2007 in terms of lost man days has left bonds, stocks and the rand largely unaffected, but market players said the strike would cap gains by the rand and could have a bigger impact if it drags on.
The workers are demanding an 8.6 percent wage rise and 1,000 rand ($136) a month as a housing allowance. The government has offered 7 percent and 700 rand.
(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)