Thousands of people striked and marched across the country in support of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) to demand more policies to fight employment and poverty.

Numsa, the largest worker organisation in the country with 340 00 members, which largely represents workers in the auto and metal sectors, is at odds with the ANC over how to tackle youth joblessness.

It takes exception to the Employment Tax Incentive Act for companies to employ more young people, which the union says will discriminate against older workers.

March in Jozi

Around 3 000 people wearing the union’s trademark red t-shirts and berets marched in Johannesburg’s Rosebank business centre.

“This incentive is causing division between workers,” said Leepile Khumalo, an artisan and union representative.

“It’s not an incentive for employers to employ,” he told AFP.

Petrol attendant Patience Modisakeng accused authorities of failing to support struggling workers.

“We want the government to improve conditions, so that more jobs are available,” she said.

March in Durban

At a march in Durban, suspended Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi said the act would not reduce unemployment.

“Employers will employ more young workers, line their pockets with the generous subsidy, while retrenching an equal or greater number of older workers,” said Vavi.

Numsa currently has frosty relations with the ANC-Cosatu alliance, accusing them of betraying their socialist roots.

The union supports Vavi, who is fighting a suspension for an alleged affair with an employee – a charge his backers slammed as trumped-up because of his vocal criticism of President Jacob Zuma.

Millions of South Africans are growing restless with growing inequality between rich and poor two decades into democracy.