The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and trade union Solidarity accepted Eskom’s 7% wage increase offer, bringing to an end a week-long industrial action.
The unions and Eskom signed the deal at a ceremony hosted in Woodmead, north of Johannesburg, yesterday.
The wage increase tabled by Eskom will include a R400 housing allowance, which then turns the amount up to R3 600 and various other benefits.
The agreement came after an industrial action marred by isolated intimidation and sabotage on the utility’s plants.
Eskom Human Resources official Elsie Pule said the engagements were not easy.
“The offer that we signed today we actually cannot afford as an organisation we need to make plans to find additional money to fund this agreement. The impact that it will have on the wage bill is in excess of a billion,” said Pule.
The striking employees were blamed for plunging the country into Stage 6 blackouts by both Eskom and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Gordhan also said the workers were essential workers and were not supposed to strike.
“If there will be no load shedding, I will then write a letter to Eskom and apologise, but if load shedding can continue I will not apologise because there was load shedding for almost 10 years. Why was it not resolved? They are being opportunistic, we know that they are under pressure, they must give a reason here and there,” said NUM general secretary William Mabapa.
He also questioned the approach used before Eskom declared a dispute, adding that workers went to a protest action because they were provoked.
“If you are saying these workers are essential services, truly speaking you will need to manage them with dignity and not provoke them. If they took the interest of the workers to heart, we should have settled this last week before workers embarked on the action,” said Mabapa.
He said workers will have to go back to work, saying what they were demonstrating for was that they did not want the 4% and wanted something reasonable.
There had been reports that Eskom would discipline the striking workers. However, unions vowed to defend their workers if that happened.
“If there will be any disciplinary actions against any workers we are going to represent them. Gordhan as a responsible minister should have come to labour and had discussions with us. If there is any provocation of any workers, we will be involved,” said Mabapa.
Solidarity’s Helgard Cronje said the agreement will hopefully lead to stability and an end to load shedding.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said they were happy and hoped that next year, when the next round of negotiations comes, Eskom would be committed and treat workers with respect.
“We understand how the public had to face load shedding. Once Numsa and NUM heard that Eskom walked out of negotiations, we wrote a letter saying please come back to the table. They (Eskom) showed us a middle finger, they took a couple of days before returning. This should not happen again. Worker rights are human rights, Eskom workers must be treated with respect,” Jim said.
He further said: “Insofar as Eskom and load shedding, I think everybody knows that we have been sitting with a crisis that had nothing to do with workers.”
Energy analyst Chris Yelland said these disputes always get resolved in the end, the question is how much damage is done.
“We have seen load shedding increase from previously Stage 2 to 4. Eskom indicated that the industrial action would put a further 4 000 megawatts at risk, and that load shedding therefore could increase to Stage 6 and 8. Hopefully things will start returning to normal and unfortunately the normal is Stage 2 to 4 load shedding, not continuously. I think things are going to slowly get back to normal,” Yelland said.
He said it is going to take time as people get back to work and recover units that tripped out and damage that had been done in the plant in the meantime.