Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan says Eskom has decided to return to the negotiating table to discuss a new wage deal with unions, which is expected to see the unprotected strike at the power utility ending and result in the “de-escalation of load shedding”.
Gordhan made the comments during a briefing on Tuesday evening after Eskom reportedly engaged with labour unions on the crisis, which saw the utility being forced to implement Stage 6 load shedding earlier in the day.
The wildcat strike at Eskom reportedly began on 22 June and has escalated since then.
According to Gordhan the intensification of load shedding on Tuesday became necessary after over 90% of Eskom workers did not pitch up at work to fulfil their essential duties, most of them due to intimidation by workers participating in the industrial action.
“We are hoping that all the staff will return to work tomorrow [Wednesday] and the clean-up process and the restart of the normal operation processes will commence during the course of the day,” says the minister.
“Where the maintenance of [power generating] units has been interrupted as a result of the intimidatory tactics [of striking workers] and lack of staff being able to enter the power stations, we will have those maintenance activities commence tomorrow as well,” he adds.
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A concerned Gordhan noted that at one of Eskom’s power stations approximately 90% of workers had not pitched up for work since the start of the strike, while other power stations saw a fluctuation of about 50% of workers staying away.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Numsa and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) confirmed that the unions and Eskom will return to the negotiating table at the Central Bargaining Forum (CBF) on 1 July, where Eskom will table its new offer to unions.
“Given the fact that Eskom has finally agreed to return to the negotiating table and there is a new offer which will be formally presented on Friday in the CBF, NUM and Numsa leadership are calling on our members at Eskom to give the process of negotiations a chance,” the statement reads.
“We call on workers at Eskom to normalise the situation given that Eskom has returned to the negotiating table.”
The unions add: “We are calling on our members to give this process and the CBF meeting on Friday the necessary chance to settle the current dispute.”
On Wednesday 22 June, Eskom management walked out of wage negotiations with various unions at the CBF after Numsa representatives reportedly accused the embattled utility of “taking money meant for workers and using it to pay billions to diesel suppliers, owners of coal contracts and independent power producers”.
At the time of the walk-out, a Numsa statement to the media indicated that workers were demanding an at least 12% increase.
Meanwhile, following the escalation of load shedding to Stage 6 on Tuesday, Business Unity South Africa (Busa) CEO Cas Coovadia warned that this latest move by Eskom could bring small and medium businesses to their knees.
“The implementation of stage 6 load shedding is a serious blow to an economy that is already struggling with low growth and a lack of decisive action on the part of government to make the necessary interventions to attract investment and put the country on a sustainable and inclusive growth path,” says Coovadia.
“Stage 6 load shedding will be a serious blow to all sectors of the economy and could lead to small and medium businesses buckling under the pressure of managing an untenable situation,” he adds.
Coovadia further called on government to do whatever it takes to resolve the Eskom crisis and prevent further stifling of the economy in the country.