Eskom pay struggle intensifies in SA – SAFTU calls for a general strike

NUMSA and SAFTU members march against Eskom privatisation

SOUTH Africa’s trade unions have been meeting with their members to discuss the proposed wage offer from energy giant Eskom, after a proposed agreement was drafted during wage deliberations over the weekend.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) confirmed that they would be be meeting with Eskom officials on Tuesday (yesterday, July 5th) to give them feedback.

Talks are still underway, with National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu saying things are looking positive.

Eskom has offered workers a 7% wage increase, but Mammburu says the conditions of employment will have to be improved too.

This came after a weekend of marathon meetings with Eskom leadership to reach a wage agreement with unions.

The NUM, NUMSA and Solidarity resumed wage negotiations last Friday after a deadlock in the talks triggered strike protests at several Eskom plants, halting vital maintenance work and plunging the country into the Stage 6 load shedding cuts regulations.

After an intervention from Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, NUM and Numsa went back to negotiations at the Central Bargaining Forum. Solidarity criticised the protest disruptions and the ensuing load shedding.

Eskom constitutes an essential service, which restricts the ability of workers at the entity to down tools in a wage dispute.

Eskom management said last week that they were in discussions with police about ‘investigating the protest disruptions and intimidation,’ with possible disciplinary action and dismissals on the cards.

The unions are concerned that the utility is already using these talks as a ‘scapegoat for implementing more load shedding.’

Last week, the state-owned company warned that rising tension during wage talks could impact on operations and services.

Workers affiliated with Numsa are demanding, among other things, a 15% wage increase, a one-year wage agreement and an end to salary disparities.

NUMSA spokesman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: ‘We’ve not even had the first round of talks yet but already, the dirty tricks have started.

‘We reject the desperate attempt by Eskom’s latest statement to link power cuts to wage talks.

‘It is an objective fact that the current management of Eskom under the leadership of Andre de Ruyter is failing to keep the lights on, and under his watch, the country has experienced the worst case of load shedding in history.’

Numsa insists the utility’s wage bill is not its biggest cost driver.

Hlubi-Majola accused Eskom of refusing to make any sacrifices when it came to running the organisation.

‘They are prepared to give perpetual increases to the call centre and IRIPP in spite of the dire financial situation that the SOE is said to be in.

‘If Eskom can continuously increase the price of coal contract for mining bosses, then workers at Eskom can also demand an increase.

‘The narrative driven by the media about Eskom being in a paralysed financial position and therefore workers deserve 0% increase lacks foundation and understanding of this industry that is regulated by Nersa.’

The unions held shop stewards meetings on Monday July 4th to consider a wage offer comprising five items – including a 7% wage hike.

Eskom has also offered to increase housing allowance by R400, which could see workers receiving over R3,600 on the benefit.

A demand that the company should reverse its unilateral withdrawal of benefits has also been included.

Workers could see the reinstatement of double payments for overtime and standby shifts among other conditions.

A key item is also the formation of a committee to deal with disciplinary procedures, grievances and a recognition agreement.

This could see workers, who staged the unlawful strike in the past few weeks, ‘get off scot-free’ despite the power utility’s commitment that it would institute disciplinary action against them.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) last Wednesday accused the African National Congress (ANC) government of sabotaging the lives of workers over the electricity blackouts.

It said: ‘SAFTU is displeased with the continued load shedding crisis, which has now reached the 6th stage.

‘The working class is bracing itself for the coldest winter in our history with rolling electricity blackouts that have continued for fifteen years now. More and more, working class people have to bath or shower with cold water to go to work or school because of this load shedding crisis which continues unabated.

‘In rural areas, people embraced electrification and lauded it as progress in what was supposed to be the progressive realisation of the dream for a better life for all, but in the context of the persisting load shedding over these many years, they are scolding it.

‘They have to re-adjust to their own hybrid energy generation, supplementing Eskom themselves with firewood and/or paraffin and gas stoves.

‘The load shedding crisis is a product of a combination of several factors. At the centre of this was government’s refusal to invest in the ageing Eskom infrastructure during the tenure of former President Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki as his deputy.

‘They were preparing to have Eskom sold to the lowest bidder as part of their commitment to neoliberalism and privatisation.

‘It was only through the resistance of the working class that they abandoned their ill-conceived plans yet they found a new expression under the presidencies of Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. Neoliberalism has now been taken to new heights.

‘Eskom has been broken down; Independent Power Producers that are effectively subsidised by Eskom have been brought on board and private firms and municipalities have been allowed to generate their own energy.

‘All this is designed to hollow out Eskom before a declared justification of privatised energy.

‘Enough is Enough!

‘The SAFTU leadership, in their Political and Ideological Commission that took place on 28 June 2022, unanimously decided to draw a line in the sand. It is time to fight back!

‘We call on our members to discuss a call previously made by our National Congress and the Central Committee that a general strike and/or a national shut down is long overdue.

‘We cannot cope! It is not just the massive disruption of the lives of ordinary working class people and the economy that we must now appropriately respond to, but this massive energy crisis that has been left unattended to for fifteen years.

‘This crisis combines with the runaway escalation of the cost of living. Paraffin, diesel, oil, gas prices are combining with the increases in transport and food prices to make the lives of the 12.4 million unemployed and the millions from the under-employed up to the middle class subjected to an untold economic squeeze.

‘SAFTU is holding its first National Executive Committee after its successful 2nd National Congress on Monday, 4-6 July at the Birchwood Hotel.

‘The leadership of the Federation has agreed that this worsening crisis must be responded to.

‘We call on workers across their different unions and federations and others who do not belong to unions to join hands with the 12.4 million unemployed and be ready for a battle that will stop at nothing but to ensure that President Ramaphosa takes practical steps to end load shedding, to stop the runaway electricity tariffs, stop escalating fuel prices, to drop prices of food and meet the historic demands of workers that the economy be shared.’