Two unions, the South Africa Transport and Allied Workers Union, and the United Transport and Allied Trade Union, have called the strike. Workers were offered an 8 per cent increase, while they were demanding 16 per cent.
All Metrorail commuter trains and the Shosholoza Meyl inter-city rail network, which are expected to help transport World Cup fans to and from matches, were out of action.
Patrick Craven is the national spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, or COSATU, the umbrella union organisation, said the fact that the strike is close to the World Cup is irrelevant, but he did not rule out a continuation.
“We hope it will be possible to keep negotiating and to get this settled as quickly as possible, because clearly nobody wants a strike during the World Cup,” he said. “But equally unions cannot suspend workers’ basic constitutional rights simply because a major sporting event is taking place in the country.”
Tumisang Kgaboesele, acting chief executive of Passenger Rail Agency of South, said the South African government had called for a quick resolution of the strike.
"The government has expressed concern about the effect the strike would have on commuters and the potential violence and intimidation that normally arises with it," he said.
The rail agency has spent 177 million euros improving its train and bus services for the World Cup.