CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Teachers left their classrooms and trials were postponed after court workers walked out when hundreds of thousands of civil servants went on strike for higher wages across South Africa on Wednesday.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union, the biggest in the country's public sector, says all its 240,000 members left class early Wednesday to attend meetings to discuss the strike.

The South African Press Association reported that trials were postponed as court workers joined the strike.

No date for more talks with management was set.

Unions are demanding 8.6 percent wages and a 1,000 rand ($137) housing allowance. The government is offering 7 percent plus 700 ($96) for housing. Public service minister Richard Baloyi says he can't afford more.

"We question how a responsible (union) leadership can advocate for an indefinite strike action knowing why the demand cannot be met in this financial year, knowing the impact such action would have on the delivery of services to all the citizens of the republic, knowing the adverse effects it would have to the very members whose interests they represent," Baloyi told reporters Wednesday.

In his budget speech earlier this year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said that in the wake of the global recession, the government needed to spend money creating new jobs, instead of giving higher wages to those already working. Gordhan said civil servants would have to moderate their wage demands.

Gordhan said 900,000 jobs were lost last year in a country where a quarter of the work force is unemployed.

South Africa's public service strikes are often characterized by violent protests. A strike in 2007 lasted a month.