Striking Eskom employees in Braamfontein, Gauteng.
Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - Eskom has accused major labour unions of breaking the law and embarking on an illegal strike. 

Negotiations collapsed last week after the power utility insisted that those on the strike be charged.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Metalworkers Union of SA (Numsa), the labour organisations accused by Eskom of being destructive, have since called for a meeting with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Eskom board, which has not yet transpired.

The entity and trade unions have drawn up a wage agreement which will give workers a 7.5% increase this year and a 7% increase for the next two years.

“During June 2018, NUM and Numsa defied the LRA (Labour Relations Act) and its essential service provisions and embarked on unprocedural, and therefore unlawful and unprotected, strike action,” Eskom said. 

“This strike action included various acts of criminality, including industrial sabotage and destruction of property. The industrial action led to rotational load shedding that impacted on society and the economy very negatively, heightening the risk of further credit downgrades for the country and downstream job losses for the industry,” the utility added. 

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: “We are still engaged in talks with Eskom at the moment and cannot comment on the matter until a solution is reached.”

Helen Diatile, the chief negotiator of NUM, said there were still ongoing engagements to try to reach a deal that would satisfy the workers. “We are avoiding speaking about the legal battle because it could jeopardise the future of our employees. The workers, however, were not supposed to strike because it was stated that they provide an essential service and that is where the charges lay,” said Diatile.

In a statement, Numsa warned that Eskom’s position could force its members to go on a strike. “We do not rule out the possibility of protected industrial action, something which others may see as irresponsible… and might prove disastrous for the economy and the country.”

The Star