Darkness may strike SA

As the Telkom workers’ strike action gains momentum, Eskom workers are vowing to plunge the country into darkness next week. ‘The workers are fed up — and when they say they will plunge the country into darkness, they mean it,” said National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) deputy spokesperson Shane Chosane this week.

Chosane said NUM met unions Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which represent Eskom’s metalworkers, this week to discuss possible strike action by its members.

It was decided in the meeting, said Chosane, that NUM, which is the largest union in the country and boasts 16 000 members at Eskom, will embark on strike action either on Monday or Tuesday.

Eskom workers are demanding a 14% wage increase and a R5 000 housing allowance. This week Eskom offered its employees an 8% wage increment and said that it would not be able to meet the housing allowance demand. The workers have rejected the offer.

Strike action is also expected at Eskom’s headquarters on Thursday, aimed at forcing chief executive Jacob Maroga’s resignation.

Metalworkers at Eskom have also threatened to strike next week if wage demands are not met. By law Eskom workers involved in the process of electric-power generation fall into the category of ‘essential services”.

These are services where interruptions can endanger people’s health and lives. But not all Eskom workers fall into this category, said Chosane. ‘This has been a tool used by Eskom to threaten workers and discourage them from taking part in the strike action.”

Eskom generates 95% of South Africa’s electricity and 45% of Africa’s. Blackouts early last year temporarily crippled mine output.

Eskom told the Mail & Guardian it preferred not to comment now. Meanwhile, Telkom workers have entered their fifth day of demonstrations in four provinces—Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape—over a 12% wage increment demand.

Industrial action started on Monday, when the workers demonstrated outside the company’s headquarters in Pretoria. The demonstrations will be followed by a stayaway action on Friday and Monday.

Telkom is offering a 7.5% wage increase, which the workers say they will accept only if the salaries of the leastpaid workers are adjusted.

Gallant Roberts, general secretary of the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU), which represents Telkom workers, said this week that Telkom had requested an urgent meeting with the union on Thursday night.

‘We know that Telkom is under severe pressure to provide its services already and that the longer the strike action persists, the more impact it will have on the provision of its services,” said Roberts.

‘By calling this urgent meeting, Telkom must have considered the effects that the strike could have in the long run. We have made it clear that no worker will go back to work until a satisfactory offer has been put on the table.”

This week Telkom said it remained committed to pursuing a negotiated settlement with the CWU. ‘These negotiations include a revised offer to address disparities in an aggressive manner.

The parties will reconvene on Tuesday August 11,” said Telkom’s Meshack Dlamini. He said Telkom had implemented contingency measures to ensure minimal impact on business operations.

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