Cape Town – The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said it would make a decision on Wednesday regarding possible strike action at Medupi power station in Lephalale, with a warning that Eskom’s lock-out of workers is a declaration of war.
Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese told Fin24 on Wednesday that Numsa would meet with other unions later in the day to discuss the way forward, which could mean embarking on strike action.
On Tuesday, Numsa’s head of collective bargaining Steve Nhlapo told Fin24 that workers had decided to stay away from work on Wednesday.
However, Ngobese said workers had been locked out of Medupi and were not voluntarily staying away.
“What is really happening at Medupi is that our members have been locked out, and we see this not only as a provocation, but a declaration of war,” he said.
“We are meeting workers this afternoon to discuss how best we can respond to this lock-out as imposed on our members by Eskom and its contractors."
SMS dismissal not right - Numsa
After an unprotected strike at Medupi on March 25, Eskom sent text messages to 1 700 workers, informing them of their dismissal or giving them final warnings.
The SMS read: “Dear employee, with effect from 27 March 2015, you are not required to report for duty. The company will proceed and implement disciplinary processes forthwith and you will be notified accordingly.”
Numsa regional organiser Mahlodi Modike said workers returned to the plant on Wednesday hoping that they would be allowed into the premises, only to discover that their access cards were blocked.
“Some workers were allowed in, but most of them [discovered that] their access card was blocked, although they did not receive an SMS to inform them that they had been dismissed,” said Modike.
Numsa said this was a lock-out and demanded that Eskom follow the correct procedures.
“If you want to discipline members, there is a process to follow as per the Labour Relations Act,” said Ngobese.
Numsa accuses Eskom of lying to the public
Numsa accused Eskom of lying to the public, saying Eskom was not in talks with workers and that the dismissed workers had not destroyed property.
“They lie to the public and say workers will be returning to work and [and say that they are] talking to us, [which] is not true,” said Modike.
Ngobese said the issues had been put down on the table. “They can be addressed, but there is no will from Eskom to address those issues.”
Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe told Fin24 on Wednesday that disciplinary action was taking place against 1 700 workers who took part in an unprotected strike action on March 25.
“Those members are only allowed to come to Medupi for their disciplinary hearing,” he said.
Ngobese questioned how Eskom chose those 1 700 workers to discipline. “We need to be informed about that,” he said. “There has been no formal communication.”
Divide and rule strategy
The union believes that the construction companies were employing a divide and rule strategy, which they feared could trigger fights among workers.
Modike said that last week, workers were united when they marched to demand bonuses on the completion of unit 6, but now they are divided, because some members think they were betrayed.
He said the plan may backfire because workers believed that they were used to champion a cause for all, while only a select few were targeted.
“We marched together as workers, but only a few were dismissed by SMS,” he said. “Workers cannot be dismissed without a hearing.
“We are not going to the labour court now, [because] we still want to engage [our] employers.”
Fired workers have not been reinstated - Eskom
The SABC reported on Wednesday that Eskom had agreed to reinstate all the workers at Medupi power station who were fired from the unprotected protest on March 25.
“Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe says the contractors and labour unions have agreed that those who were dismissed will report for work on Wednesday,” the SABC reported.
However, Phasiwe told Fin24 that the workers had not been reinstated.
“There is a disciplinary process under way and the workers who were dismissed have not been reinstated,” he said.
Numsa confirmed that the fired workers had not been reinstated.
The workers’ demands were that completion bonuses should be given to all workers, not only to senior managers; retrenchments of workers should be halted with immediate effect; and racialised evictions of workers from their subsidised accommodation should end.