Eskom wage talks off to a bad start - union

(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)
(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

Talks between Eskom and unions got off to bad start on Tuesday, with the power producer reneging on its earlier agreement to include "high-powered" members in its delegation, a union spokesperson said.

"The talks started this morning, but we are not happy with Eskom’s failure to honour its agreement with the Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan to include at least two high-powered members in its delegation," said the spokesperson of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Livhuwani Mammburu.

The talks between unions, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), Solidarity and the NUM were brokered by Gordhan last week, in a bid to avert a national crisis.

"We are not happy with the progress so far," said Mammburu, adding that there was currently no new offer on the table. He said Eskom had brought division managers to the talks.

"The Eskom team has asked for a caucus amongst themselves before we engage again," he said.

Eskom has offered a 0% increase for the current year, while Numsa and NUM workers demand a 15% hike.  Solidarity is holding out for 9%.

Workers also want a R2 000 a month housing allowance increase, the banning of labour brokers, and the in-sourcing of workers such as cleaners and security guards.

The cash-strapped power utility, which is battling to turn around its dire financial position, says it is unable to offer increases.

The state-owned power generator has for the last few years delivered poor financial performances, with several changes to its top executive structure, amid allegations of corruption.

Treasury has issued R350bn of government guarantees to Eskom, of which R275bn has already been used.

The company needs to borrow about R60bn per year for the next four years to finish the new build programme, consisting of Medupi and Kusile.

Last week, Eskom CEO, Phakamani Hadebe, pleaded with the unions to consider the firm's financial woes, saying the decision to not grant salary hikes was influenced by the tough conditions it was currently facing.

'Supply stabilising'

On Thursday, Eskom employees picketed at power stations and at outside the power utility headquarters, leading to interruptions in the power supply.

The disturbances forced Eskom to implement load shedding – the first since 2015.

The company said on Tuesday its supply system was starting to stabilise, after experiencing a "significant increase in plant outages and bottlenecks in routine maintenance" because of a lack of resources to operate plants optimally.

"The supply system is starting to stabilise and we have had no load shedding since two days ago," said spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe.

"There is a low probability of rotational load shedding during the day as a result of power station units being returned to the system…. but the probability of rotational load shedding increases for the evening peak period," said Eskom in a statement.

The peak periods are from 17:00 to 21:00.

Eskom had previously said it would take up 10 days for plants to start operating normally.

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