* Eskom powers Africa's biggest economy
* Utility has said any strike would be illegal
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Sept 18 South Africa's powerful
National Union of Mineworkers said on Sunday it had given
state-run power utility Eskom seven working days to
respond to its wage demands or face possible strike action.
Eskom, which provides virtually all the power for Africa's
largest economy and the world's top platinum producer, has said
a stoppage would be illegal as it provides an essential service
and any strike will almost certainly be challenged in court.
But a showdown is looming as the NUM demands a 13 percent
wage increase against 7 percent offered by Eskom. The two sides
are also at loggerheads over pension funds and housing
"This is the last chance we are giving them," NUM spokesman
Lesiba Seshoka told Reuters.
Seshoka said the union's latest set of demands was presented
to Eskom management on Saturday and that the deadline was a week
from Tuesday, or Sept. 27.
"But if their response before then shows no movement we will
take them on before then and may declare a strike action before
then," he said.
Earlier this month, the mediator -- the Commission for
Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) -- issued a
"certificate of non-resolution" to NUM and two other unions in
the talks, a necessary step toward legal strike action.
Unions have been angered by what they say was an attempt by
Eskom to unilaterally impose the 7 percent hike.
Eskom says that if the increases are not implemented in the
September pay roll then workers will have to wait until November
to get any raise because of an upgrade to the system which will
take place in October.
NUM said in a statement on Sunday that it had challenged
Eskom's moves to implement the 7 percent increase in the
country's labour court.
The 13 percent NUM is demanding is far above the inflation
rate of 5.3 percent in July. Most settlements in the mining
sector this year have been in the 8 to 10 percent range, a
scenario economists say cannot be sustained in the long run.
Eskom is battling to meet fast rising power demand and has
been steeply hiking the rates it charges consumers to meet the
costs of building new plants.
Eskom has a workforce of about 40,000 and says about 27,000
of its employees are unionised. Of the three unions represented
there, NUM is the biggest with about 16,000 members.
If a strike took place and it disrupted energy generation it
could blunt South Africa's fragile economic recovery and impact
output from the key mining sector, which is very power
(Editing by Rosalind Russell)