NUM guns for Eskom board, threatens strike

2014-07-18 21:00

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has threatened strike action should Eskom’s board not be forced to resign.

In an interview with City Press, NUM’s chief negotiator at Eskom, Helen Diatile, said “if we find ourselves on strike, they [the Eskom board] will be blamed because they are silent”.

“If an organisation can make a profit of R7?billion and pay its former CEO [Brian Dames] R15.3?million but offer the workers 5.6% what does that mean? That’s why we are calling for them to resign,” said Diatile.

She said Eskom was “deliberately provoking workers”. “I think Eskom is wanting a situation like the [Marikana] platinum strike to happen. Hence we are saying the board of Eskom is irresponsible because they are saying they are waiting for workers to get angry,” said Diatile.

She said the Eskom board had taken management’s side against workers as it had referred the labour dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

In a statement released by Eskom, acting human resources group executive Mongezi Ntsokolo said the utility could not afford the demand of a one-year wage increase agreement of 12% across the board and a housing allowance of R1 000 “because of the current challenges facing Eskom including the need for financial stability”.

Negotiations between the two parties have since failed, which will force the matter to compulsory interest arbitration. But Diatile said NUM found interest arbitration “suspicious” and workers don’t trust the process.

“With interest arbitration, the trend has been that the arbitrators rule in favour of the organisation. Eskom wants to go to the CCMA because last year the arbitrators just cut and pasted what Eskom wanted,” she said, adding that she “cannot pronounce a strike but anything is possible”.

“Workers are angry.”

But Ntsokolo disagrees. He said the union was “prohibited from participating in any form of industrial action because Eskom was regarded as an essential service”. And with regards to NUM making allegations about the CCMA’s bias towards the power utility, Eskom said “the allegations should be addressed to the organisation itself”.

Diatile said Eskom executives were able to act in this way because the board doesn’t reprimand them and “the only time they will jump is when the workers go on strike”.

“Striking is the right of the workers and is enshrined in the Constitution so we cannot afford to have that taken away. It is not true that Eskom is a completely essential service, it has clerks and it has security guards. That’s why we have to have a minimum service agreement – it has been sitting at the courts for more than five years,” she said.

Diatile said the next step was for the NUM central committee to pronounce on a mass protest.

“We will meet all the Eskom shopstewards and will get feedback. The workers will tell us what they would want to happen if Eskom doesn’t move,” she said.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said she had been kept abreast of developments and there were formal processes in place. However, Brown said: “It must be stressed the minister does not engage in public on performances of boards.”

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