The 2022 winter of discontent is upon us. Eskom is deemed an “essential service” so any strike there is, by definition, unprotected – which means workers taking part in it can be fired.
Yet thousands of Eskom employees have been striking and protesting after wage talks deadlocked on Tuesday. This in some ways has been the culmination of years of worker grievances at the state-owned entity, which is in the throes of restructuring and attempts to undo the damage inflicted by years of mismanagement and looting.
Sources have told Business Maverick that members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have downed tools at most of Eskom’s plants. Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) are also said to be taking part in the protest action.
No union has claimed responsibility and Eskom has not pointed fingers at any union. Business Maverick understands that other unions such as Solidarity – which represents mostly skilled workers – are also unhappy at the utility, but its members are not involved.
“Over the past 24 hours Eskom experienced protests at nine of its power stations and other operating facilities, by some of its employees who have embarked on unprotected strike action following a deadlock in wage negotiations on Tuesday. These protests included incidents of intimidation of working employees and blockading of roads leading to power stations and other facilities, inhibiting the free flow of personnel and commodities required for the generation of electricity and smooth operations,” Eskom said in a statement on Friday.
“While exploring possible solutions to unlock the deadlock on the wage talks, Eskom has reported these acts of illegality to the South African Police Service and requested the assistance of the SAPS and other security services in restoring order,” it said.
Stage 2 load shedding is currently being implemented and the utility warned that the situation could trigger higher stages of rolling power cuts.
In a letter to unions dated 21 June that has been obtained by Business Maverick, Eskom management issued a stern warning:
“It is reiterated that Eskom has been designated as an essential service. All Eskom employees are, as a result, prohibited from engaging in any form of industrial action and/or any action that retards or obstructs Eskom’s operations. Any industrial action that may occur will be unprotected. You are therefore called upon to engage your members to desist from participating in such planned unlawful activities. Employees that participate in such action would be carrying out an act of misconduct, and disciplinary action will be instituted against them.”
It went on to day that “any damages to property and/or production losses will be claimed directly from the unions.”
With this much bad blood between labour and management at Eskom, it’s probably a good time to stock up on candles. DM/BM