Unions hold the cards as Eskom faces fresh strike threat

Eskom has accused the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) of stalling and condoning ill-discipline among their ranks, as tensions remain over potential disciplining of members who participated in an illegal strike.

The two unions are yet to sign the latest wage offer of a 7.5% increase for 2018 and a 7% increase for the next two years. Solidarity has accepted the offer.

Eskom has complained of poor conduct on the part of the unions, signalling that the parties may still be far from reaching an agreement.

Last week, the two largest unions agreed in principle on the latest offer, but did not sign. The disciplinary action of members who engaged in illegal strike action last month remained a key point of contention.

“Eskom employees are desperately awaiting the implementation of the agreement, the unions raised a new demand as an absolute precondition for signing the agreement at the meeting of 8th August 2018,” the company said in a statement.

“This demand was that the company must agree not to discipline any employee who engaged in the second round of five days of unlawful industrial action.”

The company says its employees are prohibited from engaging in industrial action or obstruction of operations.

Eskom lamented that the strike “placed the entire power grid system at risk and again enforced load shedding alerts and necessitated gas-fired turbines to be initiated at great expense to the nation”.

The cash-strapped power utility has maintained that workers, who engaged in violent protest action that included acts of sabotage at power plants, must face disciplinary action.

It accused unions of seeking protection against discipline of being complicit with the actions of their members.

However, Numsa maintains the power utility had initially agreed that no action would be taken against the workers, only to renege on this agreement as the talks continued.

In a defiant statement, Numsa warned that Eskom’s hard-line position could force its members to embark on a strike.

“We do not rule out the possibility of protected industrial action, something which others may see as irresponsible…and might prove disastrous for the economy and the country,” the union said.  — Fin24

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