By Peroshni Govender
JOHANNESBURG, Sept 6 (Reuters) - South African public sectorworkers, on strike for nearly a month, may soon return to workbut continue talks on whether to accept an increased governmentwage offer, union officials said on Monday.
The strike is now in its fourth week and has seen 1.3million workers in key sectors including education, healthcareand the judiciary walk off the job demanding a double inflation8.6 percent pay rise and a 1,000 rand ($135) a month housingallowance.
"I do believe that they are calling off the strike. Someunions have asked their members to go back to work while theyare considering the offer, said Sizwe Pamla, spokesman forNEHAWU -- a union affiliated to labour federation COSATU.
Another union official said other unions needed to beconvinced that workers should return to work.
"The strike must end, we want workers to return to theirposts but consultations to continue. We will need to convinceother unions," the official, who declined to be named, said.
Union bosses were scheduled to meet each other and thengovernment negotiators on Monday and an announcement on whetherto suspend the strike action is expected later in the day.
The decision was supposed to have been made public on Sundaybut some big unions had not yet received mandates from memberson how to proceed.
STATE CANNOT AFFORD OFFER
President Jacob Zuma's government raised its offer to 7.5percent and 800 rand for the housing allowance last week butworkers rejected the deal and unions asked for more time toexplain the offer to their members.#
Government officials said the state cannot afford the offerthey have already put on the table and there is no more room inthe budget to increase its offer, which would swell statespending by about 1 percent.
The biggest strike since 2007 in terms of lost man days hasleft bonds, stocks and the rand largely unaffected, but marketplayers said the strike would cap gains by the rand and couldhave a bigger impact if it drags on. Economists predict that thelabour action is costing the economy about 1 billion rand a day.
South Africa's rigid labour laws, which are liked by unions,make it less competitive compared to other emerging economieslike Brazil, Russia, China and India and less lucrative toforeign investors.
Unions who were instrumental in Zuma's rise to power areincreasingly disappointed that he has not done more to improveworkers' conditions and adopt left leaning economic policies andthis has contributed to a widening rift between the ANC andCOSATU.
Although the government's purse is limited in how much itcan offer workers, analysts said how Zuma resolves this impassewill in part determine his political future.
"Zuma's ability to act is compounded by his politicalvulnerability," said independent political analyst David Silke.
Unions are angry that members of Zuma's government have beenaccused of corruption and cronyism and have also called for thereversal of a multi-billion rand empowerment deal in miningbenefitting his son.
With the ruling party holding its mid-term policy conferencelater this month, alienating the unions could jeopardise Zuma'sposition and risk losing support for the party in next year'slocal government elections.
"The question is whether he has the political resolve toread COSATU the riot act and rein in their excesses when heknows he may not survive that," Silke said.
Africa's most powerful economy has been hit by a series ofstrikes in the public and private sectors in recent months andtwo other labour stoppages are currently underway.
About 70,000 workers at petrol stations, garages and autodealerships walked off the job last Wednesday, seeking 20percent wage increases.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said that more than8,000 workers seeking 15 percent pay increases at NorthamPlatinum began a work stoppage on Monday in the world's largestproducer of platinum. Workers at one of the country's smallerplatinum mines rejected the company's 8 percent wage offer. (Reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Marius Bosch andGiles Elgood)