JOHANNESBURG, June 14 (Reuters) - South African government mediators on Thursday cleared the Solidarity trade union to strike in a dispute with energy giant Sasol over its plan to launch a share ownership scheme exclusively to black staff.
Under black economic empowerment rules, South African companies are required to meet quotas on black ownership, employment and procurement as part of a drive to reverse decades of exclusion under apartheid.
Sasol plans to sell 25 percent of its local operations to mainly qualifying black employees in 21 billion rand ($1.58 billion) deal that would be vendor-financed by the company.
Solidarity called the scheme, dubbed Khanyisa employee share ownership plan, "blatant discrimination against loyal Sasol employees".
But Sasol, world leader in the technology that converts coal and gas to fuel, defended the scheme on Thursday.
"The Sasol Khanyisa ESOP is not a company benefit or compensation scheme," Sasol said in a statement.
"It was specifically designed to address the ownership component of the broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Codes and therefore primarily focuses on the inclusion of black employees, as defined by the Codes."
Solidarity, which represents predominately white workers, said it would seek a mandate from members to strike. It would have to give Sasol at least 48 hours notice before going on strike, under labour law rules.
Sasol said it would meet Solidarity leaders to establish picketing rules.
($1 = 13.2987 rand)
(Reporting by Joe Brock and Tiisetso Motsoeneng; editing by John Stonestreet and David Evans)