Eskom Chief Executive Phakamani Hadebe. Photo Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency/ANA.
CAPE TOWN - South African power utility Eskom closed in on a wage deal with trade unions on Friday, as two large unions sought a mandate from their members to agree to the state-run company’s latest salary offer after weeks of fraught negotiations.

Cash-strapped Eskom was forced to cave in to union demands for higher pay after protesting workers forced some generating units to be switched off, leading to power outages in Africa’s most industrialised economy last month and again last week.

Securing an Eskom wage deal would help soothe local markets rattled by other developments, including a push by the ruling ANC to change the constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

Eskom initially refused to raise salaries as part of a cost-cutting drive aimed at reversing a steep financial decline, exacerbated by corruption scandals under previous management.

Eskom is critical to South Africa, because it generates more than 90percent of the country’s power.

The Solidarity union said on Thursday that it had accepted a salary increase of 7.5percent this year and 7percent next year and the year after, plus an inflation-linked increase in housing allowances and a one-off cash payment of R5 000.

A source said on Friday that the National Union of Mineworkers was discussing a deal with its members. A draft agreement showed an offer of a R10000 one-off payment to satisfy its demands for annual bonuses.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said it had sent Eskom’s latest offer to its members, without giving details about what it entailed.

“We’ve arranged different meetings at different plants all over the country over the next few days to discuss the proposal in detail with our members,” Numsa said.

Eskom said trade unions had committed to assist with normalising its operations but that there was a high risk of power outages over the next 30 days as the company worked to bring all its generating units back online.

Boost

The firm’s efforts to secure funding for a turnaround plan received a boost last week, when it sold its first dollar bonds since 2015. Eskom sold a $1billion government-guaranteed bond at par to yield 6.35percent, and a $500million (R6.64bn) non-guaranteed bond at par to yield 8.45percent. Overall demand for the 10-year bonds was $5.3bn.

Reuters reported last week that 15 units were down at nine Eskom stations, with 11 going off line today and tomorrow, because of factors related to protests and a wildcat strike by some workers, according to an internal document.

“Employees are encouraged to report back to work,” Eskom said. “The parties will formally sign the agreement on August 8, after engaging their members, as discussed during the mediation process.” 

- Reuters