About 2,000 South African workers of MTN Group went on strike on Wednesday demanding more pay.
The strike is the first major industrial action to hit Africa’s biggest mobile phone operator since its formation in 1994.
About 700 workers, clad in red T-shirts and carrying placards with slogans such as “MTN integrity is gone,” temporarily blocked the main road leading to MTN’s head office.
South Africa’s mostly black labour force is increasingly restive two decades after the end of apartheid.
The perception prevalent is that the earnings made in a range of industries have not flowed fairly to workers.
Thabo Magalane, Deputy General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union, told workers that “MTN continues to rake in profits as the biggest mobile operator on the continent.
“It cannot deny the very people who make it possible to prosper, the right to share in its success.”
The union wants a 10 per cent pay rise, a 16 per cent bonus payment and higher allowances for work done over weekends and holidays.
“We can no longer tolerate the arrogance and plain refusal of the company to meet legitimate, reasonable demands of workers”, Magalane said.
Ahmad Farouk, Head of MTN’s South African Operations, had to be escorted by police back to the company’s offices through the crowd of protesters.
MTN, along with rivals in Africa’s most advanced economy, is trying to contain costs in the face of tough competition that has hit profit margins.
The company, which reported a 9 per cent increase in full-year profit in March, employs about 6,500 people in its home market, where it trails rival Vodacom by subscribers.
MTN spokesman Chris Maroleng did not comment.