JOHANNESBURG - Eskom and three unions will this week enter into do or die wage negotiations that would give an indication of the country’s energy security which has threatened to inflict further damage to the country’s hobbling economy. 

The strike has seen massive coal shortages as protesting workers blocked deliveries at some of Eskom’s power stations. Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said the board had convened a special meeting today to discuss trade unions’ new demands tabled by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity last week. 

Phasiwe said the board’s stance on the matter would inform Eskom’s response to the demands. 

“The board will not only consider the wage demand, it will also deliberate on the suggestions made by the unions,” Phasiwe said. “We appreciate that the parties to these negotiations are committed to engage. The more we engage, the closer we get to a solution.” 

Eskom has been on a roller coaster ride which has seen it implementing power cuts in the past two weeks as unions upped the ante on the utility’s stance of a zero-percent wage increase. 

Phasiwe said Eskom was increasing electricity capacity by returning to service generating units at its power stations. 

Investec economist Annabel Bishop said the continuing Eskom protests could rattle investor sentiment towards South Africa. 

“Added to this is that SA is already disappointing investors with heavily indebted Eskom’s threatened load shedding and wage demands, while SA remains the entities’ guarantor, the Q1.18 contraction in GDP and SA’s twin deficits, where little work has been done so far to meaningfully reduce government debt and expenditure to date, or to fully eradicate state capture, as the individuals perceived to have driven it remain unprosecuted and the money has not been repaid – with Eskom in urgent need of recouping lost funds. Consequently, SA’s business confidence lags on weak fundamentals,” she said. 

The unions, who initially wanted a 9 to 15 percent wage increase, on Wednesday said they had presented the power utility with a detailed package “which included a plan on how the power utility can turn itself around financially, while at the same time, meeting the wage demands of workers.” 

The unions have also demanded the presence of Eskom chief executive Phakamani Hadebe and representatives of the board at the negotiations, saying their absence undermined the talks. 

“We want to know what could be more important to them than participating in these talks and guaranteeing a speedy resolution?” the unions said. 

Phasiwe said the power utility was concerned about the current stand-off over wage increases, as that heightened the risk of instability in the supply of electricity. 

Eskom had to implement load shedding earlier this month as its employees downed tools and disrupted operations at its power stations.

-BUSINESS REPORT