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Unions to respond to latest wage offer, while Eskom plays blame game over power struggle

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Eskom chief executive officer André de Ruyter said the increased power outages were continuing as a result of ’the unlawful and illegal industrial action’ that Eskom was still experiencing.

File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

WHILE the country will be plunged into Stage 6 load shedding again this afternoon, Eskom continued to blame its implementation on the “unlawful industrial action” by workers.

The strike appears to have sped up wage negotiations and has resulted in a new wage offer by Eskom.

The proposal was heard at the Central Bargaining Forum on Friday, where labour unions deliberated for almost 12 hours. They were expected to either accept or reject the agreement on Tuesday, when the next Central Bargaining Forum would be held.

The unions asked the public to be patient while they consulted their members. Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said the increased power outages were continuing as a result of “the unlawful and illegal industrial action” Eskom was still experiencing in spite of a return-to-work call issued by leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).

“The key issue is that they return to work in order to allow us to lift load shedding. There are about three stages of load shedding attributable to this unlawful industrial action – that is the major factor putting us in the position we are in right now,” De Ruyter said.

NUM national spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said members were worried that too many issues were not addressed, particularly those relating to conditions of service Eskom unilaterally changed last year (overtime, transport, stand-by allowance, and many others).

Mammburu said the two critical issues that angered members were the conditions of service and the wage gap.

He said the terms of Eskom’s revised agreement included a salary increase of 7% across the board, the reinstatement of conditions of service that were changed, a housing allowance increase of R400, and the establishment of a task team to deal with disciplinary procedure, grievance procedures and recognition agreement.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said: “We understand that the entire country is watching these talks with keen interest because resolving this is in the public interest, and there is a lot of pressure for us to give a response right away”.

Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer and De Ruyter will visit power stations until tomorrow to thank colleagues who, over the past few days, assisted in returning units to service while some staff were still striking.

Oberholzer said: “The return to service of other units is being delayed due to the lack of operating staff available at the power stations. These operators are highly skilled and returning these units to power without these operators runs the risk of damaging these generators.”

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said varying stages of load shedding were expected over the coming weeks while generation capacity shortages persisted.

He cautioned it would take a few weeks for the power generation system to fully recover to pre-strike levels.

The University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Sociological Research and Practice (CSRP) believed Eskom workers were being used as scapegoats to divert public attention from the real issues faced by the power utility.

CSRP researchers said: “Eskom workers requested a 12% wage increase while the utility offered a 5% increase – that is below inflation.

“Workers simply cannot survive on their salaries.”

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