SA strike season warming up

Cape Town - With Eskom having to obtain an interdict to ward off a strike, the fuel strike continuing to make an impact, the strike at regulator Icasa in its sixth week and a possible strike at MTN, it seems South Africa's industrial action is getting into gear.

Eskom obtained a court interdict on Tuesday to prevent employees from striking, after the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) threatened that its members at Eskom would embark on a full-blown strike in all nine provinces on Wednesday.

The interdict will enable Eskom to take disciplinary action against employees who are not at work because of the strike.

READ: CCMA steps in to defuse Eskom wage dispute

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Pasiwe told Fin24 that a meeting with the three unions involved - NUM, Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) - had started at 10:00 on Thursday and was still continuing, in an attempt to resolve the wage issue raised by the unions. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is assisting in the matter.

The unions’ demands include a wage hike of between 12% and 13%, while Eskom is currently offering an increase of between 7% and 9%.  

There is currently no minimum service agreement in place for Eskom employees. As an essential service, all Eskom employees are prohibited from engaging in any form of industrial action, including stay-aways and any other activity that retards or obstructs Eskom’s operations.

Any industrial action that may occur is unprotected. This means that employees who participate in such actions would be carrying out an act of misconduct, and disciplinary action will be instituted against them.

Pasiwe explained that the NUM had asked its members to go on strike, and that is why Eskom had obtained a court interdict to prevent it.

"The assumption is that NUM members have stopped work, but there is no official strike under way. On average Eskom has about 47 000 employees and since the beginning of the illegal strike action we have had about 45 000 members arriving," said Pasiwe.

"So, about 2 000 employees are not reporting for work - possibly because of the illegal strike."

He said although there are no large disruptions, there have been pockets of protest at Eskom power stations across the country. This is mainly taking the form of about 20 people protesting outside the yards of power stations. At Eskom's headquarters there were about 10 people protesting outside at about 08:00, but by 09:00 they had gone back to their posts.

As for the fuel strike by the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union, the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) said in a statement that there is sufficient supply to meet demand, and that depots have implemented their contingency plans. Sapia is also working with law enforcement agencies where needed.

The strike started on July 28.

READ: Union lambastes contractors as petrol strike drags on

The organisation called on fuel stations to stick to their normal refuelling patterns to secure supply. At this stage a stalemate seems to be continuing and Sapia is not aware of any further negotiations to try and resolve the wage matter.

A fuel retailer, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Fin24 on Thursday that it is mainly the smaller fuel stations which are running out of petrol. Although the oil companies have implemented their contingency plans, there is still a large backlog in delivery.

While some depots find it easy to deliver to retailers, at others striking workers try to prevent trucks from leaving the depot. This delays the delivery process.

"Although this strike does not involve fuel retailers and petrol attendants, they are affected," the retailer explained. "Petrol attendants are sent home, for instance, to wait to be called at short notice. People are hungry and we cannot do anything about it."

The source said that according to information circulated among retailers, the impact of the strike is most intense in Gauteng. As far as the retailer is aware, there have not been any further negotiations to solve the wage dispute and the union still demands a 9% increase.

Another continuing strike is at Icasa, where workers are demanding salary increases backdated to 2015 and bonus pay from 2014.

Other demands include the reversal of human resource policies and restructuring that took place in the 2014/15 fiscal year.

READ: Strike action against MTN 'imminent', warns union

Meanwhile, members of the Communication Workers Union might go on strike at MTN.

The CWU said on Thursday that strike action against MTN was imminent. This comes after the service provider announced its decision to outsource a portion of its call centre facility to a third-party vendor.

ALSO READ: Icasa strike drags into sixth week

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