S.Africa's Eskom extends worst power cuts seen in over two years

* Eskom blames latest outages on labour protests

* Utility and unions to meet Friday

June 30 (Reuters) - South African state power utility Eskom said it will continue the worst power cuts the country has seen in more than two years later on Thursday and Friday.

Blaming the latest outages on striking workers, the state electricity company said it found it difficult to conduct maintenance work and was unable to return some generators to service.

The utility is set to meet with workers' unions on Friday to discuss a new pay offer to try to settle the dispute.

"The high levels of staff absenteeism and intimidation of working employees in some of the power stations is still rife," Eskom said in a statement.

South Africans have faced power cuts on a regular basis for more than a decade, which have hindered the economic growth in the country.

Small businesses in South Africa have borne the brunt of the latest outages, while still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, which is at a five-year peak.

Eskom said that the "Stage 6" power cuts would run from 1400 until midnight local time (1200 to 2200 GMT) on Thursday and from 0500 until midnight on Friday.

Eskom implemented so-called "Stage 6" outages, which mean at least six hours of power cuts a day for most South Africans, for the first time since December 2019 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The debt-laden company on Wednesday said the maintenance backlog could take weeks to clear, putting further pressure on the already constrained power system.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's government has been trying to reform Eskom to make it more efficient, but progress has been slow.
Additional reporting by Sinchita Mitra and Shanima A in Bengaluru; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Bhargav Acharya; Editing by James Macharia Chege and Jane Merriman

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