Minister Pravin Gordhan.
CAPE TOWN - Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has called on the Eskom board to determine a wage increase it could offer to its employees as the standoff between the utility and its workers continued.

 The Department of Public Enterprises yesterday said Gordhan, who has political oversight over Eskom, met representatives of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Wednesday “to understand the concerns from organised labour about the wage dispute with Eskom and related matters”. 

The department said Cosatu expressed concern about the manner in which wage negotiations have been conducted, Eskom’s insistence on a zero percent wage “offer”, and allegations that the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement programme was crowding out jobs in the mining sector. 

Gordhan committed to discuss the resumption of negotiations with the Eskom board. 

“It is the responsibility of the Eskom board to determine what kind of wage increase Eskom can offer its employees, within the framework of the board’s fiduciary responsibilities,” the department said. “The Minister (Gordhan) is in no position to instruct the board on this issue.” 

Eskom has so far maintained that it could not afford a wage increase, given its precarious financial position. It has said that the decision not to offer a wage increase was part of efforts to set the utility on a path to financial stability. 

This, however, has triggered the rage of trade unions, which demand an increase of up to 15 percent. The department said Gordhan had offered to convene an information-sharing session between Eskom and Cosatu. 

Protests Irritated by Eskom’s decision not to offer a salary increase, the National Union of Mineworkers and National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa have threatened to bring the cash-strapped Eskom to its knees. 

The unions yesterday protested at Eskom’s premises. 

The protests have heightened fears of a national electricity blackout. 

The power utility yesterday said that the industrial action had affected power supply. Earlier in the day, Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said that intimidation and road blockades were rife at most of Eskom’s power stations and regional offices. 

He said that could compromise the utility’s ability to keep the lights on. Eskom said the generation and distribution of electricity across its network was constrained due to the acts of sabotage and intimidation. 

“There have been several incidents of road blockades, attacks on staff, and wilful damage of electricity infrastructure. As a result, all road coal deliveries have been stopped for security reasons,” Eskom said.

Its worst-hit power stations were Hendrina, Camden, Kendal and Arnot.