Johannesburg – Electricity provider Eskom on Thursday pleaded with its labour representatives to put the country first and ensure security of the supply of electricity.
"Really what the unions are asking for, we cannot afford," said Eskom's new CEO Brian Dames. He was referring to a wage dispute in which the company has offered a 8.5% wage increase and a R1 000/month housing allowance against a 9% increase and R2 500/month housing subsidy demand.
"Labour's demand will add approximately R1bn to what the regulator [National Energy Regulator - Nersa] has allowed us for wages," said Dames. He said Eskom had no intention of going back to Nersa to ask for higher tariffs in order to meet the labour demand.
Dames said any strike action will be illegal and compromise security of power supply, which is against the national interest. "All must act prudently, responsibly and in the national interest," said Dames.
All of Eskom's unions have rejected the offer, with two indicating they will be embarking on strike action from next week. Both the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) and National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) said they have already notified Eskom of their strike intention.
However, other than saying they have obtained legal opinion they have failed to state how any strike would pass the legality test. Solidarity has made a counter-proposal to Eskom's offer and gave the parastatal until Monday to respond.
Eskom insists any strike will be illegal in the absence of a minimum service agreement with unions. "Eskom has disciplinary processes in place. There will be consequences for any employees breaking the law," said Dames.
Dames found allies in the legal profession. Werksmans Attorneys labour law specialist and director Sandile July said any strike at Eskom would be illegal as the country was a signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) regulations. "Any strike at an essential organisation is illegal," said July. "Electricity by its nature is an essential commodity. They must first enter into a minimum service agreement to be able to strike."
July said the interdict Eskom obtained against unions in May was still valid.