While Eskom as said 1 000 workers were “fired” on Friday for participating in an “illegal strike” at the Medupi power plant this week, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) says Eskom’s version of events is not true, and is an attempt to deviate from the “real issue”.
Section 23 of the Constitution entrenches the right to strike. The Labour Relations Act (LRA) regulations striking conditions, but makes reference to a strike being protected or unprotected, not illegal. The LRA also stipulates that 48 hours notice must be given to trade unions before an employer can enforce a lock-out. Eskom’s spokesperson, Khula Phasiwe, said the workers were “fired” by contractors at the Medupi plant for participating in an ”illegal strike” on Wednesday. The workers had demanded better working conditions.
But Numsa says Eskom’s version of events is not true. Numsa says it was Eskom who shut down the whole Medupi plant in response to a peaceful protest by workers, and that workers intended to return to work the next day. Castro Ngobese, Numsa spokesperson, said the union did not call a strike at all. In any event, a strike can also never be illegal, only protected or unprotected, he said.
“There was no strike there. Our members had called a protest action and Eskom had agreed to receive the memorandum. A representative of Eskom received it. After that action we expected our members to go back to work. Eskom responded by enforcing an illegal lockout. We have called on Eskom to respond to the demands in the memorandum and to uplift the lockout,” Ngobese said.
“Any attempt to call it something it is not is a deviation from the real issue.” The workers’ memorandum included demands for a completion of work bonus to be given to all workers, not only senior managers; for the retrenchment of workers to stop, and for an end to the “racialised eviction” of workers from their subsidised accommodation.