Eskom doesn't expect any unlawful strikes as wage saga kicks into gear

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Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.
Deon Raath/Gallo Images
  • Eskom CEO André de Ruyter maintained that Eskom could not afford to agree to double-digit wage demands from labour.
  • He said a previous 1.5% wage increase, which was unilaterally implemented, was under arbitration.
  • The National Union of Metalworkers rejected the suggestion that Eskom could not afford increases, saying it was because it was burning so much diesel.

Eskom does not anticipate any unlawful strikes or disruptions at its operations while a wage dispute with unions is being dealt with, according to its CEO, André de Ruyter. 

De Ruyter was briefing reporters on Monday morning about the jump to Stage 3 load shedding for Monday and Tuesday evening. After that, Stage 2 load shedding is expected to be implemented every evening for the rest of the week. 

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) came out swinging at Eskom management on Monday for not accepting its demands for a 15% wage increase across the board. It said that De Ruyter was undermining the Eskom Central Bargaining Forum by engaging with workers directly and alleged that the power utility was perpetuating a "false narrative" that it could not afford the increases, when it was spending billions burning diesel. 

"It is glaringly obvious that the wage bill is not responsible for Eskom's poor financial position. Why are workers being punished for bloated procurement expenditure?" Numsa asked. 

Eskom has gone through over 40 million litres of diesel in May thus far with its open cycle gas turbines. It maintains that this is integral is keeping the balance in the power system and preventing a total blackout if more capacity is lost at its power stations. 

De Ruyter said on Monday that Eskom was still "in a loss-making situation" even though its financial position had improved somewhat.

"I'm not sure where the idea comes from that there is an excess of cash available. That is certainly not the case," said De Ruyter.

"We are unfortunately not in a position where we can respond by acceding to labour demands for a double-digit increase given the constrained financial position Eskom finds itself in.

"We can rely on our employees to support us, and we don't anticipate any unlawful industrial action."

READ | Eskom's grim warning: SA must more than double its generation capacity in just 13 years

De Ruyter told reporters that while Eskom management preferred not to have wage discussions publicly, the entity acceded to above-inflation increases in the past, which was no longer sustainable because of the entity's current financial position.

"If you look at the wage agreement in 2018, which allowed three years of 8% increases for workers belonging to the bargaining unit, this means we have given them a 26% increase since 2018. That is significantly higher than inflation," said De Ruyter.

De Ruyter said at the heart of Eskom's current dispute with Numsa at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was a 1.5% offer tabled by the entity in 2021.

"The 1.5% was implemented unilaterally, as is Eskom's right. Unions have taken us on review on that, as is their right.

"I do communicate with employees of Eskom, and I do believe it is my duty to do so," De Ruyter said, explaining that he wanted to counter "false narratives" that creep in when messages to workers go through intermediaries. 

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