Eskom sweetens the deal for unions

Power utility Eskom has increased a disputed wage offer to workers at the group, a move which may end a deadlock within days and avert a potentially damaging strike during the Soccer World Cup.

The dispute between Eskom and unions representing thousands of workers at the state-owned utility raised concern of a strike that could disrupt power supply in Africa’s biggest economy and affect the soccer World Cup.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the union’s council, comprising workers’ representatives at Eskom, was holding discussions on the new offer, after initially convening to discuss a process that could have led to a strike if Eskom failed to improve a wage offer.

“We have a new offer from Eskom but at this stage we cannot say much on the offer as we are still discussing some details,” Seshoka said.

Eskom said it expected to sign a deal with the unions in coming days.

Any power disruptions may harm manufacturing and mining companies in the world’s top platinum and fourth-largest gold producer, and force them to curtail operations, which could affect precious metals prices.

Eskom human resources managing director Bhabhalazi Bulunga said a deal with the unions was now imminent.

“We are giving ourselves time, may be up to Friday, but things are looking very good. There should be an improvement on how we end up with the day,” Bulunga told Reuters.

“We are hoping for a solution soon, I think we will find each other at some point,” Bulunga earlier said.

Analysts regard the threat of a strike as a union negotiating ploy to put pressure on Eskom to make greater wage and benefit concessions and do not expect the labour action to go ahead.

The NUM, representing about half of the 32 000 workers at Eskom, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity said on Friday they were not planning an imminent strike..

Seshoka earlier said the NUM could give Eskom a 48-hour ultimatum if its council agreed on starting a process that could lead to a vote for a strike.

Seshoka said the NUM expected Numsa and Solidarity to join in a possible strike at Eskom.

The NUM said it had been granted a certificate of non-resolution of the wage dispute with Eskom, which under the country’s laws allows the union to start a strike if its members agree, but Eskom said such an action would be illegal because it would threaten an essential service.—Reuters

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