Eskom wage negotiations are heading for the fourth round in June after talks deadlocked as three workers unions rejected the employers’ revised final offer of 5.25% increases.
These protracted negotiations, which began mid-April, could raise the stakes and increase the possibility of heavily intensified load shedding if workers down tools since parties remain far apart.
This comes as the power utility and its three recognised trade unions - National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity - concluded the third round of salary negotiations last week.
Eskom on Friday said the negotiations have progressed relatively well with some significant movements made since the beginning of the wage talks last month.
In the first two rounds, Eskom responded with a 3.75% offer, which was later increased to 4.5%, against the NUM and Numsa’s demands of a 15% salary increment, while Solidarity demanded 10.1%.
The latest round of negotiations, which began on May 23, saw the NUM and Numsa revising down their demands to 11% and 12% respectively, and Solidarity revised its demand to 9.5%.
As a result, Eskom revised its offer and made a final offer of 5.25% on Wednesday, but this was rejected by all trade unions.
Numsa criticised the R254 billion Eskom debt relief provided by the National Treasury, saying the funding comes with conditions that these monies could not be used to improve wages and benefits of workers at Eskom.
Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the Treasury must explain the rationale for denying workers increases when it continuously approves the bloated primary energy contracts.
The union has been arguing that the cost of primary energy accounts for 70% of Eskom’s operational costs compared to 8% cost of workers’ wages, which means Eskom can afford workers wage demands.
Hlubi-Majola said they rejected Eskom’s wage offer because they felt that Eskom could do better as workers were struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living.
“The government is planning to allocate R254 billion in debt relief to Eskom and not less than R70bn of this will go toward covering diesel costs over the next two years,” she said.
“It is workers at Eskom who are working tirelessly to keep the grid from collapsing, and keep the lights on, therefore the Treasury must allocate money to meet the wage demands which workers are making.
“What the National Treasury should do is to make sure that it allocates enough money so workers can at least have a decent wage increase. At the same time, it must implement the Cabinet directive which was given in 2019 which called for the primary energy contracts to be renegotiated or set aside.”
Eskom on Friday ramped up load shedding to Stage 5 as breakdowns are currently at 17 392MW of generating capacity while 2 940MW was out of service for planned maintenance.
The power utility has already warned that, due to rising demand, the possibility was high that it would implement an unprecedented Stage 8 load shedding this winter if breakdowns reach 18 000MW together with planned maintenance of up to 4 000MW.
According to recent estimates, load shedding stages between 3 and 6 will cost the economy approximately R204 million and R899m per day.
The NUM said it was disappointed with the attitude of Eskom's wage negotiating team, saying they were negotiating in bad faith.
NUM Eskom chief negotiator Olehile Kgware said the attitude of the Eskom negotiating team was an insult to the toiling Eskom workers who are trying to prevent higher stages of load shedding.
“Eskom is willing to pay billions of rands to the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and the diesel sellers while failing to increase the wages for the workers,” Kgware said.
“The NUM has requested Eskom to make available the amount of money they are paying contractors and consultants and Eskom refused to provide that information.”