Unions representing Eskom workers on Tuesday said they had left room for further negotiations before embarking on a strike. They have also called for the President Cyril Ramaphosa and Energy Minister Jeff Radebe to intervene in the wage impasse.
Talks between the power utility and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) have deadlocked over the power producer’s offer of a 0% wage increase. Workers affiliated to the two unions are demanding a 15% wage increase.
The power utility said in a statement on Tuesday it would not be offering pay increases due to a difficult financial situation. It has also said it has contingency plans in place for Thursday.
The unions will on Thursday stage lunchtime pickets in various parts of the country to voice their contempt towards the 0% increase offered by their employer.
"On Thursday there will be a big demonstration taking place at Megawatt Park and power stations across the country," said Numsa Secretary General, Irvin Jim, at a media briefing on Tuesday. Jim said the union would "exhaust all options" before embarking on a protracted or rolling strike.
The two unions are also set declare a dispute of interest with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, or CCMA.
NUM and Numsa are demanding a 15% wage increase for all employees, a housing allowance increase of R2 000 a month, the banning of labour brokers, and the insourcing of workers such as cleaners and security guards.
Jim said unions were flexible with regards to the the 15% wage increase demand. "We have said we are open to negotiations when it comes to negotiating the double digit pay rise," he said, without revealing what concessions the unions were willing to make.
The unions are also demanding an urgent meeting with the Eskom board, Ramaphosa and Radebe in a bid to resolve the wage dispute.
"If the government does not intervene, we are afraid the lights will go off," said Jim.
NUM, which represents about 15 000 of the utility’s 47 000 workers, criticised the power utility's new CEO.
"The new CEO, Phakamani Hadebe, is known for his anti-union attitude. He is a union basher. We are yet to meet with him, but we know that he is a man on a mission," said David Sipunzi, NUM General Secretary.
Eskom is in a difficult financial situation, having been granted approximately a quarter of its proposed tariff increase application for 2018/2019.
"It is no secret that Eskom is in serious financial trouble. It has huge debt levels as a result of the build programme; it is owed millions in outstanding municipal debt….and has wasted billions through mismanagement, looting and corruption," said the two unions.
The troubled state-owned enterprise has warned workers against participating in strikes. Eskom employees fall within the essential service category, which prohibits them from striking.
"Eskom has been designated as an essential service provider, and therefore our employees are reminded that they are not allowed to participate in strike actions," Eskom earlier said in a statement.