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Eskom declares dispute with unions after wage talks deadlock 

Eskom power lines are seen running in the southern suburbs of the countries biggest city, Johannesburg, South Africa, 29 January 2015. (Photo: EPA/KIM LUDBROOK)

Cash-strapped power utility Eskom declared a dispute with three unions on Wednesday after wage talks reached an impasse. The matter will now go to mediation and arbitration, with the stage set for a protracted tussle. 

The talks have been rocky from the start and Eskom is sticking to its guns, insisting its 1.5% wage hike offer is final, finish and klaar. 

“Eskom can confirm that it has today declared a dispute as it has not been able to reach an agreement in the central bargaining forum wage negotiations with the three recognised trade unions: the National Union of Mineworkers, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), and Solidarity. Eskom’s final offer is a 1.5% increase in the basic salary, conditional on the unions accepting certain variations in some identified benefits of employees,” Eskom spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha said.

“The unions have rejected this, and instead placed demands for basic salary increases of 10%, 12% and 9.5%. This in addition to other demands for the increases of an average 15% in the benefits enjoyed by the employees. Eskom, which relies on taxpayer cash bailouts to maintain its going concern status, has clearly demonstrated these demands are unaffordable.” 

NUM and Numsa were originally pushing for 15% hikes and so both unions reduced their demands. But at least in the case of NUM, it has gone back to 15% because of the deadlock. 

“We tried to meet them part way and went to 10%, but it did not work, so we are back at 15%,” Khangela Baloyi, the Energy Coordinator for NUM, told Business Maverick. “We now have to take the route of the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).” 

Representatives from the other unions could not immediately be reached for comment. 

If the deadlock remains, Eskom maintains that the unions cannot go on strike legally because the utility provides an essential and critical service — well, it does most of the time. 

This has not stopped workers from downing tools there in the past but NUM’s Baloyi said they were discouraging their members from taking that route. 

Inflation is currently running at 4.4% and has been accelerating, a trend that can fuel wage demands as winter sets in, especially from workers with many dependants who are struggling in the current economic environment. 

Unions also dispute Eskom’s claims of penury, though it is hardly in good financial nick. As the utility battles to keep the lights on this winter, things are heating up on the labour front. DM/BM

 

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All Comments 5

  • I earn about 9% less in 2021 than I did in 2019, but I am extremely lucky compared to many others who don’t even have jobs any more. Unions asking for an increase? I wish I could swear here so I could tell them what I really think.

  • Rowan, exactly right. How is it that the only people that haven’t made any sacrifices, and one could say contribution, over the last 18 months think that they are entitled to huge salary increases. The deal should be that any salary increase must be accompanied by a reduction in head count that covers the increase in costs plus there must be an improvement in productivity.

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