Johannesburg - A wildcat strike at Eskom may be the only option left for disgruntled workers after a final and binding wage increase offer that they have rejected.

Union leaders told Business Report yesterday that workers were not satisfied with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration’s (CCMA) decision to award a 6.3 percent wage increase.

This increase represented the total cost to the company, while the workers’ actual cash increase was 5.6 percent, the unions confirmed.

“This increase is not fair on workers, we actually regard it as a wage cut because it is below the inflation rate,” Stephen Nhlapho, the National Union of Metalworkers SA’s (Numsa’s) national sector co-ordinator of basic metals and energy, said.

The consumer inflation rate was at an annual 5.3 percent in November last year.

The unions had initially made demands that would see workers’ total cost to the company increase by between 20.1 percent and 44.3 percent after benefits adjustments. But later they consolidated their demands to a 12 percent raise.

Nhlapho warned that an unprotected strike was on the cards as workers had no other option. “Workers were also frustrated by the fact that they are regarded as essential service workers,” he added.

Nhlapho said the ban on essential service strikes would have to be taken to the Constitutional Court to be changed because every worker had the right to go on strike.

Numsa said it would hold a meeting with all of Eskom’s shop stewards on Thursday before a decision on whether to go on strike was made.

Deon Reyneke, the head of Solidarity’s metal, engineering and electrical industry, said the increase was disappointing as it was lower than the average increases agreed to at last year’s negotiations with other employers. He said the union was not sure whether a strike would be a good thing or not.

Reyneke said it was the end of the road for workers as the CCMA’s decision was final.

He said Solidarity had nevertheless succeeded in getting Eskom to relinquish its initial demand for a five-year agreement. “We are hopeful that when wage negotiations for the next financial year start shortly we will be able to reach a favourable settlement for our members without it having to be a protracted process.”

Solidarity said Eskom blamed the meagre increases on the fact that the National Energy Regulator of SA rejected the electricity giant’s application for a 16 percent tariff increase, only granting an increase of 8 percent.

National Union of Mineworkers acting energy sector co-ordinator Ndlela Radebe said workers had nowhere to turn to and this could result in strike action. “The arbitration decision is final and binding… The only option that workers might have is to go on an unprotected strike.” - Business Report