Eskom union pickets to continue as negotiations reopen | Fin24

Eskom union pickets to continue as negotiations reopen

Jun 14 2018 15:52
Tehillah Niselow

Johannesburg - Trade unions at Eskom have vowed to continue with lunchtime pickets as the parties head back to the negotiating table after talks deadlocked over a wage freeze. 

Crowds of workers belonging to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) picketed on Thursday outside Megawatt Park, the power utility's head office in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.

Eskom, meanwhile, in earlier statements reported several incidents of road blockades, attacks on staff, and "willful damage of electricity infrastructure" at power stations and offices. 

The cash-strapped parastatal had offered a 0% wage increase to employees. The two unions demanded 15% across-the-board wage hikes.

"Our demands will be supported by rolling mass action, until legal channels have been exhausted, before restoring to a full-blown strike action," said NUM general secretary David Sipunzi, as he read out the memorandum of demands on Thursday. 

Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe was booed as he signed the document.

As marshals pleaded with the crowds to quieten down, Hadebe replied that the demands of workers were being considered. Negotiations would be reopened.

All three major unions at the power utility, the NUM, Numsa and Solidarity, have declared a dispute at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Workers have accused Eskom of being high-handed and arrogant during the wage talks.

Power supply constrained

The reopening of negotiations came shortly after Eskom reported its network was "constrained ... due to the acts of sabotage and intimidation".

The power utility said that all road coal deliveries had been stopped for security reasons. "The safety of all our employees is of paramount importance to us during this time," the power utility said in the earlier statement.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe, meanwhile, tweeted earlier in the day that the electricity at Megawatt Park had "mysteriously" been cut.

Gordhan to talk to Eskom

The decision by Eskom to reopen negotiations came after Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan met national leaders from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Wednesday.

According to a statement by his spokesperson Richard Mantu, Gordhan agreed with Cosatu officials that it was improper to raise the issue of downsizing at Eskom during the current wage negotiations.

The responsibility to determine the wage increases, however, was up to the Eskom board. The minister cannot instruct them on this issue, the Department of Public Enterprises warned.

Gordhan, in his meeting with Cosatu, also laid out Eskom’s dire financial position, including the fact that the state owned entity was borrowing money to pay for operational expenses – including salaries, which the minister called "unsustainable".

He offered to convene an information-sharing session between Eskom and Cosatu, so that union leaders were able to understand the cash crunch that the power utility was facing.

IPPs and corruption to blame for cash crunch

At Thursday's picket, meanwhile, several speakers blamed Eskom’s renewable energy programme and alleged corruption for its financial woes. 

"It is haemorrhaging money because of the impact of the independent power producers (IPPs), and it has wasted billions through looting, mismanagement and corruption," Sipunzi told cheering workers, as he read out the memorandum of demands.

Numsa president Andrew Chirwa said Eskom was spending R34bn on IPPs despite the country having an energy surplus.

"These IPPs are the same as Gupta corruption, but they are not Indian corruption...this is White Monopoly Capital."

The unions also claimed there is "top-heavy management" at Eskom and the power utility should cut the "more than 500 managers" based at Megawatt Park.

Earlier, Chirwa had announced to outraged employees that Eskom was seeking an interdict to prevent the strike.

NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said that the union was yet to receive the court papers. Eskom's Phasiwe was not immediately available for comment.

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