The deepening leadership crisis at Eskom will be conducive to increased activism among rival unions at Eskom, including its Medupi and Kusile construction sites, says labour expert Chris Jacobs, a director at the OIM Group.
Background: leadership crises
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Tuesday confirmed that it has received a referral from suspended Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona related to his unfair suspension.
“In accordance with the CCMA practice and procedure the matter will be set down for conciliation and all parties will be notified,” the organisation said in a statement.
Eskom board chairman Zola Tsotsi last week announced the suspension of Matona and three other top executives, including financial director (FD) Tsholofelo Molefe. Tsotsi said at the time that there was no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the suspended executives and the suspensions were merely aimed at preventing any interference in an independent inquiry into the state of Eskom.
Jacobs said an employer who suspends an executive without any good reason, will be on very shaky grounds at the CCMA. He says employees have the right to be informed of charges against them and to be afforded the opportunity to defend themselves against it. If Eskom fears interference in an investigation that is focusing not on the individuals, but on the institution, it will have to explain why there is a risk of them interfering. At the moment the impression is created that there are hidden charges, which would be unfair, he says.
He says the CCMA will decide on a balance of probabilities whether the suspension was unfair and may order the employer to comply with the process by stating the charges or to reinstate Matona.
Matona was only appointed to his position in October last year, following the resignation of his predecessor Brian Dames in December 2013. Dames left the company at the end of March 2014.
The company was also without a permanent FD for the whole of last year until Molefe’s permanent appointment in January.
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s subsequently downgraded Eskom to junk status, citing the suspensions and as a result, concerns about corporate governance and the implementation of measures to stabilise the company.
Pressure has since been mounting on Tsotsi with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) secretary Frans Baleni calling for his removal. (As an aside, Baleni is married to the former CEO of national energy regulator Nersa who suddenly resigned from her position in February.)
The Eskom board itself was reconstituted in December with only Tsotsi and one other member being retained.
According to reports, the majority of the current board was gunning for Tsotsi’s removal and a vote of no confidence was expected to be tabled at a board meeting on Wednesday.
He says these battles at the leadership level may lead to paralysis in the rest of the organisation. “Even managers at a lower level may be scared to take any decisions for fear of being suspended themselves.”
He says unions fighting for territory may capitalise on this paralysis. NUM, National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and newcomer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) have been competing for members at the Eskom sites and may take the opportunity to press for more benefits in an effort to impress members.
This may result in more populist and militant pronouncements and actions and may even have resulted in Wednesday’s strike at Medupi, Jacobs said.