Eskom strike ‘still a possibility’

An Eskom strike during the World Cup was still a possibility as the national power provider’s negotiations with three trade unions ended in disagreement on Monday night.

A commissioner for the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) had given Eskom until Wednesday 10am to consult its executive committee on the unions’ revised demand of a 9% increase and a R5 000 per month housing allowance per employee.

“They said they don’t have a mandate to agree to it,” said trade union Solidarity’s chief negotiator Bennie Blignaut on Monday night.

“We have agreed to disagree.”

Solidarity, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) had initially demanded a 15% across the board increase and a housing allowance of R5 000.

Revised settlement offer
The unions proposed a settlement offer of 9% at the meeting on Monday.

“It was not our mandate, but it was an agreed settlement offer that we decided on earlier in the week,” said Blignaut.

“We said give us 9% and the housing allowance, then we would sign now, but they didn’t want to do it,” he said.

Eskom tabled a revised offer of an 8% across the board increase on basic salary, a 5,6% increase to key allowances and a R12 000 once off payment per employee.

The R12 000 payment, which the company said would be ex-gratia (as a goodwill gesture), would be paid in two equal instalments, in July 2010 and July 2011.

Blignaut said Eskom’s offer was linked to a new-cost-to-company system that the power provider wanted to initiate next year.

“We’re not even going to take that to our members,” said Blignaut.

“The cost-to-company system is a whole new system that we have to go and explain to our members.”

‘A chance we will have to take’
He said if Eskom failed to return with a new offer on Wednesday, the unions — who were still in agreement on the issue — would go on strike.

“It would be an unprotected strike, because they are essential services, but that is a chance we will have to take,” said Blignaut.

He said the commissioner refused to issue a certificate for a dispute, even though the unions felt they had reached a deadlock.

“If they don’t bring something to the table on Wednesday, he would issue the certificate,” said Blignaut. He said the unions’ demand went back to 15% after the meeting.

Eskom’s human resources head Bhabhalazi Bulunga, who attended the negotiations at the CCMA’s offices in Johannesburg, said the power utility’s offer was “very reasonable” as it was well above the inflation rate.

“That is very generous in today’s economic climate, and it comes on top of the other benefits our workers already enjoy,” Bulunga said. — Sapa

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