Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 15:59 UK

Fuel price marches hit S Africa

Cosatu members marching in Durban, 9 July 2008
The unions say they will stage a national strike in August

Trade unionists in South Africa have been taking to the streets to protest at the rising costs of fuel and food.

The day of action in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces was organised by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Cosatu plans to stage two more protests in other provinces before organising a nationwide walkout in August.

Unions complain that high energy costs and unemployment are exacerbating poverty and pushing up food prices.

The rising costs of fuel and food around the world have hit home in South Africa as well, but the unions insist the government could do more to help alleviate the suffering of the country's poor.

They complain that a pro-business policy has helped the elite at the expense of the poor, says the BBC's Peter Greste, in Johannesburg.

Union influence

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven told the BBC that the imposition of a 27.5% fuel tariff on 1 July was hitting those who could least afford it.

"Our main concern today will be a demand that workers and poor consumers will not suffer from the huge problems we have with electricity supply at the moment," he said.

The government was creating "nowhere near" enough jobs to offset the rises in living costs, he added.

A government spokesman said the administration of President Thabo Mbeki fully understood union concerns, but questioned whether taking to the streets was the best way to reach a solution.

Business groups say they are sympathetic to the plight of the poor but argue that prices have been driven higher by external factors and that striking will only make things worse by reducing productivity.

South African unions also protested earlier this year over rising food prices.

Our correspondent says it is still too early to tell how effective the marches might be.

But the union movement is a part of a three-way alliance in government, alongside the African National Congress and the South African Communist party, and has significant political influence.

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