S. African unions vow to fight energy price hikes

South African unions on Monday vowed to stop electricity provider Eskom from introducing a planned 16-percent annual tariff increase, arguing it would hit the poor hardest.

A group of unions representing over 500,000 workers in the agriculture, food, metal fabrication and commercial sectors have vowed to picket public hearings and stage vigils to oppose the plan by the state-owned entity.

"The proposed increases will pose an economic and social disaster for South Africa as the hikes will lead to job losses, factory closures and general increases in consumer goods," the union groups said in a statement.

Eskom -- which battled unprecedented rolling blackouts in 2008 -- argues it needs to raise funds to invest in infrastructure so as to boost economic growth and extend electricity access to all South Africans.

The unions have vowed to begin a month-long campaign this week to force Eskom to drop its plans for the 16-percent tariff increase over the next five years.

Instead, they want to see the state-run agency apply inflation-linked increases over the next three years.

Inflation in the country is currently hovering above five percent at an annualised rate.

South Africa, the continent's largest economy, has embarked on a multi-billion-dollar building spree to set up new power plants that would double electricity supplies over the next two decades.