Power “’ will the lights
stay on in the event
of an Eskom strike?
Johannesburg, South Africa — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 08 September 2011 – South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has conceded that wage talks with state-run national power utility Eskom Holdings have failed, and the union says that it is now preparing to strike.

“The talks have collapsed, we are now preparing to go on strike,” said NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka. Reuters reports that 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 could hobble a fragile economic recovery.

The NUM said it was demanding a 13% wage increase while Eskom “’ which supplies virtually all of the power to the country “’ is offering 7%. Inflation is currently running at 5.3% .

The official mediator, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), last night issued what is called a certificate of non-resolution to the NUM and two other unions in the Eskom talks. The NUM, with about 16,000 members at Eskom, is the biggest of the three unions bargaining with the utility.

The issue of this certificate 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 did 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.

The 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 pay roll then workers would have to wait until November to get any raise because of an upgrade to the system which will take place in October.

Eskom is already battling with tight supplies and wants to keep a lid on its own costs as it hikes its rates and seeks to build new plants to avoid looming power crunches.