Johannesburg - Tension between Eskom and its employees is escalating, with the power utility’s largest union, the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers), warning it cannot be held responsible for the actions of any of its “angry” members.
This follows Eskom being granted a court interdict stopping the NUM from marching to Megawatt Park on Tuesday, the utility’s Joburg headquarters.
The union recently declared Eskom and mining company Sibanye Gold the worst employers in South Africa.
Workers are fed up with Eskom, which is offering a 5.6 percent wage increase. It is well below inflation of 6.6 percent.
The NUM and National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) are a demanding 12 percent raise, while Solidarity has dropped its demand to 8.1 percent for the first year.
The utility refuses to budge on its offer because it is the percentage the National Energy Regulator has allowed in terms of its recent tariff determination.
Eskom declared a deadlock with the NUM, Numsa and Solidarity earlier this month following failed wage negotiations. The matter is now with the CCMA.
The NUM is seething not only because Eskom’s wage increase, which will be the second one below inflation in two years, but because of the utility’s “arrogance” when it comes to labour relations.
Because Eskom is considered an essential service, no workers are allowed to take part in any protests or strikes. But unions argue that Eskom needs to be more flexible as not all its workers perform essential services.
“We cannot take any responsibility when workers’ anger explodes. Anything can happen. Even dead Eskom workers are not allowed to strike,” NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said on Tuesday.
Numsa has said it is willing to risk unprotected action and embark on an illegal strike at Eskom. If Numsa and the NUM decide to join forces, it would have a devastating impact on the country’s electricity supply.
The court interdict stopped employees who were not on duty and those not in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity from embarking on the march.
“It is our view as the NUM that the court is wrong in granting Eskom an interdict to stop helpless workers, particularly those who are not at work. With this approach, it could mean that even a retired Eskom employee remains an essential (employee),” the union said.
“The NUM is extremely disgusted with the arrogant behaviour of Eskom management, who think that Eskom workers are their private property. We urge all our members to refuse to be silenced.
“We reiterate our call for the board of Eskom to resign. They have failed to provide leadership, which is why we are in this mess.”
Labour is going to have a tough time convincing Eskom to increase its offer. The utility is in dire financial straits due to spiralling operating and funding costs, and also because it awarded R31 million bonuses to its directors over the past two years.
This year, 30 of Eskom’s directors have agreed to forfeit their bonuses.
Baleni said the NUM has written a letter to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown informing of her of its “frustration”.