This is not a paywall.

Register for free to continue reading.

We made a promise to you that we’ll never erect a paywall and we intend to keep that promise. We also want to continually improve your reading experience and you can help us do that by registering with us. It’s quick, easy and will cost you nothing.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish up registering with us:

Please enter your password or get a login link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for registering.

First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Eskom strike appears to be over after NUM and Numsa cal...

Business Maverick


Eskom strike appears to be over after unions call on workers to ‘normalise the situation’

Illustrative image: Emissions rise from a tower of the Eskom Kusile coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Eskom signage in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Charles Gallo) | National Union of Mineworkers members protest outside Eskom’s Megawatt Park. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier) | Pylons at Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power plant. (Photo: Gallo Images / Nardus Engelbrecht)
By Ed Stoddard
28 Jun 2022 21

The Numsa and NUM unions have called on workers to ‘normalise the situation’ after they said Eskom had agreed to return to the bargaining table. That is a transparent code to their members taking part in an illegal strike blamed for tipping the country into Stage 6 load shedding to return to work.

Is there light at the end of the Stage 6 load shedding tunnel that threatens to plunge South Africa’s fragile economy further into darkness?  

A glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon late on Tuesday when the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) called on workers taking part in an illegal strike at Eskom to “normalise the situation”.  

That is a transparent code to their members taking part in an industrial action blamed for tipping the country into Stage 6 load shedding to return to work. The strike has not been officially sanctioned by the unions so it remains to be seen if those taking part in the protests will heed the call. But union sources who spoke to Business Maverick said they expected the employees to pick up their tools.  

The breakthrough came after Eskom and the union leaders met on Tuesday and agreed to resume wage talks on Friday at the Central Bargaining Forum (CBF).  

“Given the fact that Eskom has finally agreed to return to the negotiating table and there is a new offer which will be formally presented on Friday in the CBF, NUM and Numsa leadership are calling on our members at Eskom to give the process of negotiations a chance,” the NUM and Numsa said in a joint statement.  

“In light of these developments, we call on workers at Eskom to normalise the situation given that Eskom has returned to the negotiating table.”  

Eskom said in a statement that the meeting was “productive”.   

But it warned that while the workforce may be back in full force on the job on Wednesday, “The system will still take some time to recover. As a result of the strike, maintenance work has had to be postponed, and this backlog will take time to clear.”  

So Stage 6 load shedding, which had not been triggered since December 2019, may still bite the economy for some time. It effectively means that 6,000MW have to be removed from the grid on a rolling basis to prevent a complete collapse of the system that would throw South Africa back into a pre-industrial, “Mad Max” kind of era for a few weeks.  

The markets are certainly sensitive. The rand tanked on Tuesday, breaking above 16/$ for the first time in over a week before settling a bit on news that the strike might be ending. 

Social media is far from the most accurate gauge of public opinion, but an unscientific glance at platforms such as Twitter suggests that neither the unions nor Eskom have much in the way of public support. Everyone hates Eskom, and Eskom employees who cause more blackouts are hardly going to be viewed sympathetically by households and struggling businesses, big and small. 

So the stakes on Friday are very high. 

“If Eskom comes with a small amount on Friday, I fear the worst,” one union source told Business Maverick.  

Business Maverick understands that the Solidarity union, whose members have not taken part in the strike, are demanding pay hikes of 5.5% to 6.5% at a time when inflation is running at 6.5%. 

News24 has reported that Numsa is demanding a 12% wage increase, while the NUM has demands ranging between 8% and 10%. It’s not clear at this stage what Eskom plans to offer. The state-run utility is not exactly financially flush after decades of mismanagement and looting. 

This, in some ways, has been the culmination of years of worker grievances at Eskom, which is in the throes of restructuring and attempting to undo the damage that has accumulated over the years. Unions maintain that their members are not to blame for all of the shenanigans that have brought Eskom to the brink. Sadly, that means that tough decisions are being made and will probably still be made by management.  

And regardless of what goes down on Friday, load shedding will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future. But its short-term stages and severity may hinge on Friday’s talks. DM/BM


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 21

    NUSMSA 22 JUNE 2022

    The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) met with Eskom management under the auspices of the Central Bargaining Forum (CBF) for what was supposed to be the fourth round of wage talks. Talks were set down for the 21st and the 22nd of June. NUMSA and other unions submitted their revised demands and the expectation was that we would engage in a final round.

    However, after NUMSA made its opening remarks, instead of engaging, Eskom management responded by declaring a dispute and then it walked out of the venue. NUMSA simply asked the question;

    “Why is Eskom taking money meant for workers, and using it to pay billions to diesel suppliers, owners of coal contracts and Independent Power Producers (IPP’s)?” Eskom refused to respond to the question. Instead, it staged a walkout.

    • The unions are mafias. They claim to be fighting for the working class but they are full of rubbish. They are only fighting for themselves. How many working jobs do these unions affect when they cause industrial terrorism?

    • Good for Eskom, IPP was not on the table for discussion. with the train wreck that is Eskom as a result of the ANC going back to President Mbeki’s tenure and illegal strikes Eskom must seek alternatives. so instead of workers whining they should be looking at the opportunities that IPP technology will bring and at the same time upskill themselves. IPP is not a waste of money it is a viable alternative to the mess we are all in and perhaps unions should be thinking of the country, not just themselves.

    • Sure, it’s all ESKOM management’s fault because NUMSA’s wage demands are so reasonable, I mean, most people got 12% to 15% increases no? Money for diesel, coal and IPPs are required to keep the lights on, not pay excessive wages to an incompetent and destructive workforce who has no loyalty to their company or country. What they did is tantamount to treason.

  • Surely sabotaging the national power grid, as the unions & their militant members are doing, is tantamount to treason, and should be dealt with accordingly. The unions themselves are complicit in the failings of the government & ruling party as partners in the tripartite alliance, and therefore are striking against themselves! No wonder this country and its state institutions are in such a complete mess!

  • I fail to see how these strikers can continue to be employed. It was a violent illegal strike that cannot be condoned and the unions cannot walk away from their members’ actions.

  • Some workers are responsible! The theft and sabotage are committed by workers! It is outrageous that the people and the economy of this country are held to ransom by unscrupulous unions. An illegal strike should be dealt with by the police, and army if necessary. Violence and intimidation should be prosecuted. People should be fired, not rewarded for this kind of strike.

  • “Unions maintain that their members are not to blame for all of the shenanigans that have brought Eskom to the brink.”

    So the news of intimidating workers and stopping them physically from working is not true?

  • Again, through decades of pandering to the Unions, the cANCer Government enabling Unions to dictate terms and call the shots. Simply put, you reap what you sow …

  • Eskom must downsize its workforce. Workers must increase productivity to global levels (Eskom probably operates at 25% – for the majority of employees).

    Then when’s it’s profitable it can provide increases to the remaining productive employees.

    These gangster, union affiliated RET supporters can’t be subsidised by the tax payer any longer.

  • What the eskom unions are doing is no different than a mafia racket. If eskom makes wage concessions the unions won’t disrupt and petrol bomb eskom.

    Being an essential service, the disruptions are also specifically illegal. If the police do not lock up the organizers, the country is well and truly doomed. Rinse repeat every year.

  • It’s hard not view Eskom in its entirety as a criminal organisation, even though rationale tells you otherwise. That the workforce is filled with cadres is indisputable, a third of which are reportedly unnecessary. How they even dare ask for ANY increase after crippling the country boggles the mind. That they will win this fight enrages me. This is another of those over-weight sulky lazy Made-by-the-ANC chickens coming home to roost – the unhealthy relationship between a political Party in Government and the unions.

  • Can we assume that 10%+ of the workforce are now volunteering for dismissal? Or is the essentiality of controlling employment costs in this industry overpaid by at least 40% currently, not important?

  • This seems like an opportune time to get rid of hundreds of unproductive ‘managers’ at the power utility. It is a well known ‘fact’ that Eskom is overstaffed … thousands more employees than twenty five years ago and the electricity output potential is still the same. Who is to blame? The anc with unscrupulous AA and cadre deployment.

  • Why would criminal strikers suddenly listen to union leaders unless these acts of TERRORISM were secretly sanctioned by union leadership?

  • A. They are lucky to have a job.
    B. What are they currently getting paid and how does that compares with the private sector? (overpaid I suspect)

    Unions are so much part of the problem!!

  • The UK has just suffered a rail strike. To my knowledge there were no petrol bombings, vehicles set alight, tyres slashed, etc. Different to South Africa. I suppose it is a cultural thing.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted