Wage dispute: Eskom workers picket at power stations

Workers are seen near cooling towers of the Hendrina power station, located south of Middelburg. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Workers are seen near cooling towers of the Hendrina power station, located south of Middelburg. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Workers at some of South African state-owned utility Eskom’s power stations are demonstrating over wages, but supply has not been disrupted, spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said on Monday.

A spate of controlled blackouts was triggered in June following worker-led protests after the cash-strapped utility, which provides virtually all of South Africa’s power, said it could not afford pay increases.

“There have been some incidents but it has not disrupted our services at the moment,” said Phasiwe, who did not name the power stations affected or say how many workers were protesting.

Last month workers downed tools in what Eskom had said was an “illegal protest action” after unions were angered by Eskom’s initial refusal to offer pay rises for this year.

“The workers are very angry because Eskom will not agree to pay annual bonuses and they want their bonuses,” a union source said.

Cutting costs at state companies is a priority for President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the labour dispute at Eskom will test his administration’s commitment to reforms aimed at putting a sluggish economy on a sustained growth path.

Eskom is regularly cited as a threat to South Africa’s credit rating because it has more than R220 billion of government-guaranteed debt.

City Press reported on Sunday that a draft Treasury report on its ongoing investigation into state capture reveals the extent to which the Gupta family’s lieutenants bent over backwards to help them loot Eskom and another state-owned entity, Transnet.

The report, the second of its kind during the investigation and dated July 2018, contains new information about alleged dodgy dealings by former Eskom and Transnet chief executive Brian Molefe, his chief financial officer at both companies, Anoj Singh, former Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane and their officials.

It also reveals that multinational advisory firm McKinsey paid for Singh to go on lavish international trips to Dubai, Russia, Germany and the UK, after which their contract with Transnet was massively extended.

The report also states that investigators from the Fundudzi Forensic Services company “imaged computers and Apple devices” belonging to Molefe, Singh and former acting Eskom chief executive Matshela Koko.

Workers have been in negotiations with Eskom for weeks now.

The National Union of Mineworkers, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity are banding together to try and squeeze the best possible salary increase out of Eskom.

The wage talks got off to a rocky start after the power utility offered employees “a zero percent increase”.

The stalling, backtracking and holding back has already cost the cash-strapped state-owned entity R50 billion in damages, Numsa’s spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said at the end of June.

The unions’ wage proposal would cost the power utility R1.2 billion.

“Surely if Eskom was determined to settle the strike it would simply accept the proposal which has been made by the unions so it can resolve the dispute,” said Hlubi-Majola. – Reuters. Additional reporting by a City Press staff reporter

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