Eskom, Union in Dispute Over Whether Workers Have Approval to Begin Strike

Eskom Holdings Ltd., South Africa’s state utility, is in dispute with the nation’s biggest union on whether a state-backed mediator gave workers approval to strike.

The mediator issued a certificate agreeing to a walkout after the two sides failed to reach agreement, National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said today by mobile phone. Eskom said the document only recommends arbitration.

Commissioner for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Nerine Kahn wasn’t immediately available for comment when Bloomberg News called her Johannesburg office today. Eskom, which supplies about 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity, said this week it can’t afford a wage increase of more than 8 percent, while the NUM is demanding an additional 9 percent.

“We are ready,” Seshoka said, adding that a date for a strike hadn’t yet been set. The union represents about 16,000 of Eskom’s workers, he said. Eskom had 37,857 workers in its 2009 financial year, according to its annual report.

“It’s deliberate, to confuse,” Eskom Managing Director of Human Resources Bhabhalazi Bulunga said by mobile phone today. “There’s not a strike in it,” he said of the certificate.

To contact the reporters on this story: Carli Lourens in Johannesburg at clourens@bloomberg.net;

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