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POWER CRISIS

Eskom wage talks remain deadlocked after unions reject latest 5.25% pay rise offer

Eskom wage talks remain deadlocked after unions reject latest 5.25% pay rise offer
National Union of Mineworkers and National Union of Metalworkers South Africa members protest outside Eskom’s Megawatt Park in Sandton, demanding salary increases on 14 June 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

A wage agreement between Eskom and a trio of unions remained deadlocked after the utility’s latest offer of a 5.25% wage hike was roundly rejected.

Eskom revised its offer to 5.25% from 4.5% on Wednesday morning, but that remains far below what labour is willing to accept at this point. And with Thursday being the last scheduled day for a third round of talks, a dispute may be declared. This would send the matter to conciliation.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Exclusive – Eskom again increases its offer in wage talks to 5.25% 

Eskom’s initial offer was a 3.75% hike, so it has moved – but not by a lot – over the course of several weeks. 

“Although parties are still far from each other, there is progress, however small it might be. All parties are positive about the fact that there is still conversation taking place,” a union source told Business Maverick

Daily Maverick can confirm that the Solidarity union has revised its demands to 9.5% from CPI +3%. CPI in April slowed to 6.8% from 7.1% in March, but remains high by recent historical standards, and food inflation is still north of 14%. 

The National Union of Mineworkers’ demand is believed to remain at 11% after its initial 15%. 

As far as could be ascertained, as of Wednesday night, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has a demand of 12% on the table, down from 15% at the start. 

Eskom maintains it cannot afford bigger increases than it has offered, even in the wake of its debt relief package. The unions – whose rank and file is restive – counter that wages are not a huge burden in the parastatal’s greater scheme of costs, though that is a debatable point. 

Unions also point to the costs of alleged corruption and mismanagement at the utility, which they say is not a cross the company’s employees should have to bear. But it is also impossible to squeeze blood from a stone, and that leaves all players in this saga stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

Some disgruntled Eskom employees – who are barred from embarking on a protected strike by law – downed tools in protest last year anyway as wage talks bogged down. The dust settled after Eskom agreed to a 7% wage hike. 

A repeat of such illegal strike action this year, as Stage 8 blackouts loom, could be another blow to an economy that is already reeling from the power crisis.

As this round of talks enters its final scheduled day, the stakes couldn’t be higher. DM

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