A NATIONAL pay strike is looming at Eskom, after management at South Africa’s massive national power utility issued a ‘declaration of war’ to the three trade unions involved last Tuesday, at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
Eskom spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha said the power utility declared a dispute at the CCMA because it was not able to reach an agreement in the central bargaining forum wage negotiations with the three unions – the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), and Solidarity.
Mantshantsha said NUM, Numsa and Solidarity rejected the power utility’s 1.5% salary increase, conditional on the unions accepting certain variations in some employee benefits, and demanded basic salary increases of 10%, 12% and 9.5%, respectively.
‘These were in addition to other demands for the increases of an average 15% in the benefits enjoyed by the employees. Eskom, which relies on taxpayers cash bailouts to maintain its going concern status, has clearly demonstrated these demands are unaffordable,’ he said.
Numsa has since accused Eskom of acting in bad faith and lying to the public, while the NUM said it viewed the move by Eskom as a ‘declaration of war’.
Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, the Numsa spokesperson, said Eskom continued to mislead the public by claiming that the wage demands made by employees were unaffordable.
‘Eskom has been negotiating in bad faith from the beginning of these talks. From the first day of wage talks, they made an offer of 1.5%. Numsa and NUM made adjustments to our original demands and we reduced our wage demands but Eskom did not budge at all during the negotiations,’ said Hlubi-Majola.
‘They have not made a single concession while we demonstrated we are flexible and are willing to negotiate.
‘This is the definition of negotiating in bad faith because they (Eskom) are not willing to compromise, but instead choose to impose their position.’
Hlubi-Majola also accused Eskom of taking money set aside for workers’ increases.
She said the National Energy Regulator of SA had allocated a 5.4% minimum increase for the workers’ salary package at Eskom.
She claimed the power utility used this money to benefit coal supply companies instead of paying workers.
Numsa rejected Eskom’s 1.5% offer, she added, because Eskom recently gave Seriti/South32 a 49% increase and agreed to pay R4 billion more for 30 million tons of coal for four years.
‘Last year, Eskom spent R71 billion on coal as part of its generation costs and R28 billion on REIPPs (renewable energy independent power producers),’ she said.
NUM spokesperson Khangela Baloyi said Eskom’s decision to declare a dispute during the wage negotiations showed that the power utility did not want to bargain.
‘We are only on the first day of round three – already they are declaring a dispute which means we are going to have to go to the CCMA and finish the negotiations there,’ Baloyi said.
‘This shows that Eskom wanted to collapse these negotiations from the beginning. But now we want to inform everyone that we are back to the original demand of 15% and all other elements that were with it.’
Before the collapse of the negotiations last Tuesday, the majority union NUM, lowered its wage demand from 15% to 10%, while Numsa also revised its demand from 15% to 12%.
Hlubi-Majola said now that Eskom had lodged a dispute, the unions have to wait for the conciliation process of the CCMA to unfold.
She added that in the interim Numsa would mobilise its members and all workers at Eskom to picket during their lunchtime to highlight their demands.
NUM’s Khangela Baloyi said that Eskom’s declaration of a dispute amounted to a declaration of war, which they would meet head-on.
‘We are now going back to our initial demand of 15%,’ he said.
The unions had earlier in the process shifted their demands to 12% and 10% respectively for the major unions.
Meanwhile, The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) has slammed the South African Local Government Association’s (Salga) for its hard stance which it says threatens to collapse municipal salary negotiations.
Last Friday, Salga said that there had been ‘meaningful progress’ made in a collective agreement for the 2021 salary and wage negotiations at the SA Local Government Bargaining Council (Salgbc).
However, Samwu has come out strongly rejecting Salga’s stance that the association had drawn a line in the sand for the unions from the first day of the negotiations.
Samwu Deputy General Secretary Dumisane Magagula, said: ‘Throughout the negotiations, Samwu has continued to negotiate in good faith, while the employer had sought to turn these negotiations to collective begging. They want labour to literally beg for decent increases.
‘To make matters worse, from the first day of negotiations, Salga drew a line on the sand for us, indicating that there are certain issues which they are not willing to compromise.
‘Page 2 of 4 Salga indicated clearly to labour that they would only offer an increase that is below inflation and that workers’ benefits would be frozen.’
Magagula said that at their recent Samwu Special National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, they had received and consolidated reports from provinces on the last offer of 1.5% salary increases made by Salga at the bargaining council.
‘Workers totally rejected the offer that was made by Salga. In fact, workers felt insulted and ridiculed by their employer whom they have diligently served and ensured the continuity of service delivery.
‘These are the same workers who responded to the government’s call to ensure crucial municipal services are delivered amid the pandemic.
‘As Samwu, we can place it on record, that in this round of negotiations, there has been no movement from the employer to address the core issue of these negotiations, – a salary increase for the country’s municipal workers.’
He added that it was for this reason that Samwu had, on the last day of the negotiations, requested the facilitator of the process to issue her proposal based on the parties’ demands.
He further stated that because Salga continued to draw a line in the sand at the negotiations, insisting on a below-inflation increase and a total freeze on workers’ benefits, this was an indication that the parties in the bargaining council had not come to a meeting of minds, and were therefore far from reaching a suitable agreement on the matters in contention.
Magagula said that for Salga to even suggest, as they did in their statement, that the facilitator’s proposal ‘may lead into an agreement’ was misleading, self-serving and sought to create an impression that they were agreeing as parties, whereas this was not the case, given the intransigence of the employer.
‘We place on record that should the facilitator’s proposal, which was expected to be issued on Monday 7th June, not address the fundamental demands put forward by our members, such a proposal will be rejected outright by our members who have given us a clear mandate for these negotiations.
‘Seemingly, Salga wants workers to get on their knees to beg for the demands that they have put forward. We are not going to bend over backwards to Salga on the bread-and-butter issues of our members,’ Magagula said.
The union is now awaiting the facilitator’s proposal, which will immediately be subjected to members’ scrutiny, following which, the union will convene a Special National Executive Committee meeting to chart a way forward in the battle to ensure that workers receive the decent increases that they deserve.
‘As we have said before, if the boardroom is not a conducive environment for the conclusion of these negotiations in the best interest of workers, we will gladly conclude them on the street, a situation which we are being pushed into. Our sneakers are ready for the streets,’ Magagula added.
- The Public Servants Association, which represents more than 235 000 civil servants including teachers and health workers, has warned that it could vote on a strike as soon as next week Friday.
Last month, the PSA said that negotiations with government had broken down and it filed a formal dispute at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) on 11 May. A conciliation hearing was held last Thursday, but if no agreement is reached within 30 days, the union can apply to strike.
Government and unions in the public service have been locked in wage discussions for the past few months, with little sign that they are getting any closer to a resolution. These talks are to arrive at agreed wages for public servants including nurses, teachers and police officers.
As part of the conciliation process with the PSA, government raised a technical objection concerning jurisdiction, and it also argued that the PSA’s dispute was ‘premature’ – as most of the other unions are still in negotiations.
The union said: ‘The PSA has warned the employer that by frustrating the process, employees are losing patience.
‘The PSA will comply with the (Labour Relations Act) and kickstart its strike balloting in view of the lapse of 30 days by 11 June 2021.
‘Government should take responsibility for the country’s financial crisis and refrain from making public servants the scapegoats in this process.’