Numsa: Eskom negotiating in bad faith, we could strike even if disastrous for economy

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) condemns Eskom for negotiating in what the union regards as "bad faith" and is ready to go on strike because of it.

In Numsa's view, Eskom's strategy is to dismiss "masses" of union members for having demonstrated during the wage negotiations in its (Eskom's) quest for privatisation of the state-owned entity (SOE).

"As soon as we edged closer to reaching settlement on all wage related issues, the Eskom management team’s true intentions were exposed," Numsa said in a statement on Thursday.

"They stated in the negotiations that they wanted us to accept that they would take disciplinary action and dismiss many of our members for their demonstrations and protests during the negotiations. We reject this with the contempt it deserves."

Numsa confirmed that the only outstanding issue in this round of wage negotiations relates to the disciplinary action. However, the union said it remains very firm and is "not willing to trade the job security of our members for a wage deal". At the same time Numsa remains open to the use of corrective disciplinary measures - but not dismissal - if there is real evidence of misconduct.

In the view of the union, it should rather be the Eskom management that should be dismissed for mismanagement of the state-owned power utility's affairs. Numsa is also against Eskom's agreements with Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

"We are warning Eskom management, the board and government as the shareholder that, if they do not withdraw this threat, they leave us with no choice but to exercise our constitutional right to engage in protected strike action in defence of jobs as a last resort," said Numsa.

"We have taken this decision after serious consideration, while moving backward and forward in trying to accommodate Eskom management’s concerns."

Numsa has called for a meeting on Monday between the Eskom board and Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan to address the union's issues in an attempt to get rid of the current deadlock in wage negotiations.

"We do not rule out the possibility of protected industrial action, something which others may see as irresponsible...and might prove disastrous for the economy and the country," the union said.

"It is frustrating that we are forced to consider the drastic step while we are at the final stages of settlement."

Eskom's group executive for human resources Elsie Pule said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the trade unions have accepted the Eskom offer and the parties were due to sign the wage agreement Wednesday.

However, the unions put a condition that their members who participated in an illegal strike action should not face disciplinary action. Eskom could not accede to this pre-condition. The power utility hopes to resolve the impasse on disciplinary action early next week.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said in a statement on Wednesday evening that it is extremely disappointed that parties are not making any progress in the Eskom wage negotiations at the CCMA.

"Since we started with negotiations this morning, Eskom has been insisting on disciplining workers who participated in the industrial action," NUM said in a statement.

"Eskom wants NUM to sign the agreement and thereafter dismiss our members. The NUM will only sign the wage agreement if Eskom removes the precondition of disciplinary action."

The union Solidarity has already accepted a revised wage offer last week.

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