Eskom wage deadlock ends, setting SA back on course to fewer blackouts

Eskom and unions have ended the wage deadlock that led to the unprotected industrial action blamed for the country’s level six load-shedding, according to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Earlier on Tuesday, labour and Eskom reached a wage settlement following extensive negotiations, Gordhan told a news conference.

Gordhan, who addressed the media virtually from the Eskom offices, condemned the recent spate of protests, which prevented 90% of the utility’s staff from attending to their work duties at one power station. The minister said Eskom was hoping normal operations would resume from Wednesday and that staff would be engaged in a clean-up programme. 

The power utility announced earlier on Tuesday it was scaling up rolling blackouts from stage four to stage six from 4pm, citing strikes at its power plants. 

“This has compelled Eskom to continue taking precautionary measures to conserve generation capacity and safeguard plants from damage. There is a high risk that the stage of load-shedding may have to change at any time, depending on the state of the plant,” the utility said in a statement.

Last Friday, Eskom said there had been protests at nine of its power stations and other operating facilities, following a deadlock in wage negotiations on 22 June. 

Eskom workers who did not want to strike faced intimidation that prevented them from working, Gordhan said. “They could not attend because of intimidation at their homes, intimidation through phone calls … Intimidation, as I’m sure also that the public will agree, is completely unacceptable. And it is incredibly irresponsible.”

Gordhan presented images of homes that were petrol-bombed and vehicles that were set alight, allegedly by strikers. Other images showed roads being blocked and coal dumped in the streets. 

“The question that country needs to ask of those who inspire this kind of activity is: ‘In whose interest is this?’ Because electricity is vital to every household,” the public enterprises minister said.

“Electricity is crucial to the economy of this country. It is crucial to ensuring that jobs are retained by businesses in this country. And it is important for investors that we have some certainty about the electricity situation in this country as well.”

With more units set to come online starting from Wednesday, Gordhan said Eskom may be able to avoid another round of level six load-shedding. “That depends on the kind of co-operation that we get from all stakeholders within Eskom.”

Gordhan appealed to labour not to interfere in South Africa’s electricity provision. “Now is the time to work with each other in the national interest, in the interest of the country and in the interest of the 60 million South Africans. And I hope that, where there are issues to be resolved, let’s sit around a table.”

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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