Johannesburg - The National Union of Mineworkers (Num) said
on Thursday that wage talks with state-run power utility Eskom had failed and
that it was preparing to strike.
If a strike takes place and Eskom fails to keep the lights
on, it could have a crippling impact on the world's largest platinum producer
and hobble a fragile economic recovery.
"The talks have collapsed, we are now preparing to go
on strike," said Num spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka.
The Num said it was demanding a 13% wage hike while Eskom,
which supplies virtually all of the country's power, is offering 7%. Inflation is currently
running at 5.3% and wage settlements usually exceed this level by
a wide margin.
The official mediator, the Commission for Conciliation,
Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), issued what is called a certificate of
non-resolution on Wednesday night to the Num and two other unions in the Eskom
talks. This is a necessary step toward legal strike action in South Africa.
The Num said in a statement that the CCMA had suggested
arbitration as the next step, but the union does not want to take this route.
"We don't want to go to arbitration, that drags things
out ... it is up to us to go on strike now," Seshoka said.
Eskom has maintained in the past that any strike against it
would be illegal because it provides an essential service.
Unions have been angered by what they say was an attempt by
Eskom to unilaterally impose the 7% hike.
But Eskom maintains that if the increases were not
implemented in the September payroll, workers would have to wait until
November to get any raise because of an upgrade to the system which will take
place in October.
The Num, with about 16 000 members at Eskom, is the biggest of
the three unions bargaining with the utility.
Eskom is already battling with tight supplies and wants to
keep a lid on its own costs as it hikes rates and seeks to build new plants
to avoid looming power crunches.
Eskom said that its employees could not legally strike.
"Any strike by Eskom employees would be illegal because
Eskom is an essential service," Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe said in an
emailed response to questions from Reuters.