Johannesburg - Wage negotiations between Eskom and the unions could still end in a strike this week.
Late on Thursday evening the three unions negotiating with the power parastatal rejected an adjusted 8% wage increase.
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is however meeting Eskom on its own this weekend and will give the unions feedback on Tuesday.
It is not particularly unusual for the CCMA to meet one party to a dispute separately, says director Nerine Kahn.
The CCMA is however making every effort to resolve this dispute.
The unions hope that Eskom will, via the intermediaries, come up with a more generous offer on Tuesday.
Whatever is offered will then be presented to union members who will have to vote on it.
Only later in the week will the likelihood of a strike become clear.
If Eskom comes with a 10% increase and a housing allowance the union will sign on the spot, Paris Mashego, chief negotiator for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said on Friday.
If the allowance is put on the table, he says the union will sign for any percentage. The demand for a housing allowance of R5 000 a month is this year's focal point in Eskom’s wage negotiations.
To date the company has not offered even a small allowance, but it has raised its basic increase offer from 5.5% to 8%.
The housing allowance being demanded would cost about R2bn a year – much more than can be realistically expected from any wage increase.
The allowance could upset the entire negotiation process, says Solidarity deputy chief executive Dirk Hermann.
All Eskom employees are regarded as essential service providers and cannot therefore strike with the usual protection from labour legislation.
But there is a precedent for strikes by essential services where workers have not been prosecuted – such as that of doctors in state hospitals and members of the police force.
NUM members are not stupid, and they realise that, says Mashego.
According to Hermann there are various options for protest action, but the situation is extremely tense and volatile.
The fact that Eskom does not have a minimum services agreement with its employees adds to the tension.
Such agreements typically distinguish between really essential posts within companies and those where a strike will not necessarily lead to a crisis.
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