Eskom warns against illegal strike as NUM downs tools

ESKOM said on Monday the start of a wage strike had not yet affected operations at its 27 power stations.

Spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe also reiterated Eskom's position that Eskom's employees were prohibited by law from striking.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) earlier on Monday said its members at three Eskom power stations had downed tools.

More workers were set to follow as the wage strike began, NUM said on Monday.

Paris Mashego, NUM's energy sector coordinator, told Reuters that wage talks with the utility were in deadlock over the weekend. Announcing the intention to strike on Monday, General Secretary David Sipunzi said on July 29 that an agreement on the union's demands it presented to Eskom were not met, following a mediation process through the CCMA.

“Eskom's offer of 7% is an insult to hardworking Eskom workers, while keeping the lights burning,” said Sipunzi. "Eskom workers are unable to feed their families."

Demands include a one year wage agreement, of 12% increase for maximum wage earners and a 13% increase for minimum wage earners. Negotiations initially started at 18% for minimum wage earners and 16% for maximum wage earners, explained Paris Mashego, NUM Eskom sector coordinator.

Other demands include occasional leave and selling of leave. “We sell seven days but only get paid five,” said Mashego.

The union said that Eskom failed to address the apartheid wage gap of 50% between the minimum and maximum salary scale. “After 22 years of democracy, Eskom is still paying workers based on the apartheid system,” said Sipunzi. “White employees are still paid more than black people.”

The union also demands a housing allowance of R5 000 per month. “Housing prices are increasing and Eskom workers can’t afford to pay for houses,” said Sipunzi. Those that do not have houses won’t be able to acquire houses in future, he explained.

NUM's 14 824 members across all regions are prepared to strike, with or without the Minimum Service Agreement (MSA). “Eskom is using the absence of an MSA to prevent members using their constitutional right to strike,” said Sipunzi.

“We don’t want the strike to last long. We want the strike to get results,” said Mashego. The announcement of the strike is to get government to listen to the union and to get Eskom’s leadership to reach an agreement with NUM, he said.

“Eskom made a profit R4.6bn … Our members want to get a big share of profit made,” added Mashego.

NUM has consulted with Solidarity Union, and they have agreed with the action to be taken, said Sipunzi. “A major stumbling block may be what Numsa plans to do… Numsa is in negotiations just to compete with NUM,” he said.

In response to a question on how long the strike will continue, Sipunzi said: “We believe if government allows the strike to continue even longer than one day, it will cause damage to business and other sectors.

“A lot of other entities or sectors will suffer, think of hospitals and other businesses that will run without electricity,” said Sipunzi.

- Fin24

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