No shutdown yet for Eskom workers

A mass demonstration at MegaWatt Park will take place on Thursday at lunch. (Gallo)

A mass demonstration at MegaWatt Park will take place on Thursday at lunch. (Gallo)

At a joint press conference on Tuesday, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) said, despite previous reports, the unions would only go on strike if the law permits it.

Although it was reported that the two trade unions would hold a one-day shutdown at Eskom on Thursday over 0% salary increases, many workers are restricted from striking as they are deemed to render essential services.

The two unions are demanding a 15% increase across the board, a housing allowance increase of R2 000, the banning of labour brokers and the insourcing of workers such as cleaners and security guards. They met on Monday at the NUM offices in Johannesburg to discuss a joint plan to the wage negotiations impasse.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said workers will be picketing during lunchtime at Eskom power stations around the country, with a mass demonstration at MegaWatt Park to take place on Thursday at lunch.

Jim responded to questions of whether or not the demonstrations would mean the “lights will go off”, simply saying: “If the lights switch off, it will be because workers are exercising their protest in rejection of the 0% offer.”

Jim said the unions, including Solidarity, are taking the legal route by declaring a dispute of interest in order to put an end to the wage negotiation deadlock. Eskom’s 0% wage increase offer comes amid the state-owned entity’s implementation of austerity measures.

READ MORE: Trade unions plan Eskom shutdown on Thursday over wages

“Eskom declared a deadlock after negotiating in complete bad faith,” Jim said. “We are left with absolutely no option but to follow the law to declare a dispute of interest against Eskom management.”

Jim said the unions celebrate this “unanimous decision” to take a stand against Eskom “as a brutal and hostile employer”.

“We’ll exhaust all options legally before choosing to go on strike,” he emphasised.

Jim raised the sticking point that independent power producers (IPPs) presented to ensuring wage negotiations were carried out in good faith. The union has argued in the past that thousands of workers in Mpumalanga will suffer because Eskom plans to shut down four coal-powered power stations in that province in order to accommodate the IPP’s.

In a statement issued on May 25, the union said the implementation of IPPs actually goes against Eskom’s calls for austerity.

“The IPPs are going to cost R1.2-trillion which is more than the nuclear deal which was condemned because it was too costly,” the statement reads.

“In 2016 the project cost Eskom a staggering R9-billion. Eskom has admitted on several platforms that it cannot afford to sustain the IPPs and that the project is too costly and yet bizarrely the state is proceeding with the roll out.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Jim said unions were not consulted in the implementation of austerity measures at Eskom and that they remained firm that the government should do everything in its power to make sure Eskom is resourced.

“But the signing of the IPPs was a reckless decision and the board has failed in its fiduciary duties to act in the interest of Eskom,” he said.

Unlike Eskom, Jim said the unions were setting out to prove that they are not reckless: “We’re following the law and once a certificate of non-resolution is issued, we will be left with no choice but to embark on a strike.”

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit both subs and writes for the Mail & Guardian. She joined the M&G after completing her master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Cape Town. She is interested in the literature of the contemporary black diaspora and its intersection with queer aesthetics of solidarity. Her recent work considers the connections between South African literary history and literature from the rest of the Continent. Read more from Sarah Smit

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