Unions in face off with Eskom

2010-06-05 15:18

The three trade unions currently embroiled in a wage dispute with Eskom are forming a ­unified front to challenge the power ­utility, which is refusing to give in to their demands of an 18% wage increase.

This week, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) met in Gauteng to hatch a plan to strengthen their bargaining power.

Eskom has so far offered to hike the salaries of its 40?000 workers by 5.5% over the next three years, causing the negotiations between the state-owned utility and the three unions to collapse.

“We met to discuss a unified position against Eskom. The company is strong and we need to work together to bring it down,” said NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka.

Solidarity, which has 8?000 members at Eskom – mainly ­artisans and engineers – said it would lodge a dispute with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration ­(CCMA).

Solidarity spokesperson Jaco Kleynhans said if CCMA ­mediation and arbitration ­efforts failed, Solidarity would consider taking legal action against the state power utility.

The law bars Eskom workers from going on strike ­because they are regarded as ­essential workers.

Eskom financial director Paul O’Flaherty said the demand for an 18% wage ­increase would add R3?billion in the first year to the parastatal’s R17?billion wage bill. He said such a spike in the bill would increase Eskom’s funding needs – estimated at R190?billion over the next seven years – by R1.5?­billion a year.

“The regulator has allowed us to use 7% of the tariff to cover labour costs,” said O’Flaherty.

Earlier this year, the National Energy Regulator of South ­Africa granted Eskom tariff ­increases of 24.8% for this year, followed by 25.8% next year and 25.9% in 2012.

Eskom announced this week that it had made a R3.6?billion profit this year compared with a R9.7?billion loss last year.

The unions have pounced on this, accusing the company of ­refusing to pay its workers a ­sufficient wage despite registering the profit.

However, O’Flaherty said ­Eskom was still financially fragile and its profits were still too thin to cover its debt, which has ballooned rapidly due to its capital investment programme.

Eskom is expected to spend about R693.3?billion on new ­capital projects by March 2017.

NUM, which has 16?000 members at Eskom, and Numsa, which has 6?000 Eskom members, have threatened to go on strike if the parastatal does not settle with them.

Castro Ngobese, spokesperson for Numsa, said the union’s council for shop stewards would hold a three-day meeting, starting from Friday, to discuss ­renewing the mandate.

“There is a strong possibility that we will be going to the streets to put pressure on ­Eskom,” he said.

He added that the union was prepared to go on strike even during the soccer World Cup, which kicks off on Friday.

“If need be, we are ready to pull the plug and plunge the World Cup stadiums into darkness,” Ngobese said.

Seshoka said if the dispute ­resolution process failed, NUM members would take industrial action. “We cannot postpone our ­children’s hunger because of the ­soccer World Cup,” he said.

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