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SAfrican employers more lenient during World Cup

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — More than just a worldwide party, the World Cup has been a tempting distraction for many workers in the host country.

In South Africa, many employers have been rather lenient, allowing their staff to watch and attend matches in the first World Cup to be staged in Africa.

"Where possible, employers tried, especially when the South African team was still playing, to allow workers to leave earlier if they could," said Gert van Deventer, a spokesman for the Federated Employers Organization of South Africa. "Some employers even said that they set up television screens and would arrange that employees should come together on one afternoon and make something of it."

The World Cup opened on June 11 at Soccer City in Johannesburg and games have been played daily since. Wednesday will be the first of six rest days before the final on July 11, also to be played at Soccer City.

Although hosting the World Cup does not mean that local employees are entitled to time off, South Africa's biggest trade union federation, COSATU, has been hoping that employers understand that staff want to watch the games.

"We have appealed to employers to be reasonable and I think they probably have," COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven said, adding that even if production levels were to decrease, it would be worth it to host the World Cup.

"It would not concern us too much as we know this is such a big national event, we have been encouraging people to attend matches," Craven said. "We believe any marginal effect on the production is completely outweighed by the enormous positive effect that this event has had on the country as a whole."

Even though South Africa was eliminated after the first round, some companies are still allowing their charges to watch matches on television while they are working.

"It forms part of our work environment and we want our staff to be part of the excitement of the World Cup," said Mxolisihla Tshwayo, the manager of the Lido Lounge restaurant in the township of Soweto.

In Cape Town, the Savoy Cabbage closed its kitchen early Monday night because the chef wanted to see Brazil play Chile on television.

Big events can often lead to decreased productivity, but Litsani Ligudu, who works for Statistics South Africa, said that it is still too early to tell the impact on South Africa.

Some local fans have an idea what the numbers will show.

"I had to leave work earlier to make it in time for the match," said Riaan Lourens, a 29-year-old IT worker from Pretoria. "I don't think my boss even knows about it."

Janelle van Heerden, a personal assistant at Macmillan Publishers in Johannesburg, said people in her office have been slipping out to go to a fan park close by to watch the matches.

"But they come back after the match," Van Heerden said.