Eskom offers to reinstate 1700 workers at Medupi power plant

Eskom’s spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe says that the workers were reinstated “to reduce levels of antagonism and intimidation against workers”.

Eskom’s spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe says that the workers were reinstated “to reduce levels of antagonism and intimidation against workers”.

Eskom has reportedly offered to reinstate 1700 workers at the Medupi power plant who were fired by SMS in March, unconditionally. But the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), the majority union at Medupi, says the working conditions previously raised by workers, at the heart of the dispute, have not yet been addressed.

Workers are considering Eskom’s offer, and a meeting was held on Tuesday afternoon to discuss whether workers would return to work. It remains unclear whether work will continue at the plant.

Eskom’s spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe, told Reuters on Tuesday that the workers were reinstated “to reduce levels of antagonism and intimidation against workers”.

Phasiwe could not be immediately be reached on Tuesday for clarification, but Numsa maintains that Eskom is not being truthful about why workers were fired in the first place.

On the day of the march, 27 March, Medupi workers received the following sms:

“Dear employee with effect from 27 March 2015, you are not required to report for duty. The company will proceed and implement disciplinary processes forthwith and you will be notified accordingly”.

At the time, Eskom said workers were fired by sub-contractors at the site for embarking on an “illegal strike”. In terms of South African labour legislation, strikes are either protected or unprotected, and the term “illegal strike” does not exist.

Later, Eskom said workers were actually fired for vandalism.

But Steve Nhlapo, head of collective bargaining at Numsa, said workers never called a strike to begin with. And since the workers were dismissed, no charges of vandalism had been laid against any of the workers, Nhlapo said.

He said that on March 27, workers had held a two-hour long march to handover a memorandum. At issue was the lack of exit bonuses for the thousands of workers who would be leaving the construction site once the construction was complete, and allegations that workers were being evicted from their subsidised housing near the site.

At the time, Numsa said Eskom promptly locked workers out of Medupi, and that it was not true that workers had taken a decision not to return to work. 

Nhlapo said Eskom had acknowledged “their mistakes” at a meeting this week and had offered to re-employ the 1700 workers, “unconditionally”. And, he said, the power utility had offered to stop the eviction of workers from their housing.

“We said, give us an offer that we can take back to our members, and that is what they gave us,” Nhlapo said on Tuesday. 

Central to the dispute is the fact that a 20 000 - strong workforce will have to be let go once Medupi is built. Unit six, where workers dismissed were employed, is supposed to come online in July.  

In two weeks, Numsa is hoping that the dispute will be resolved. The union is unhappy about the fact that workers will be discharged without exit bonuses once Medupi is complete.

It is at odds with Eskom over whether the sub-contractors’ managers are receiving exit bonuses while the workers are not. Workers who have already left the site will also have to be included in any exit package that is negotiated, Nhlapo said.

He said the union suspected that the firing of workers was an attempt to divert attention from the workers’ memorandum.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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