Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan has committed to asking Eskom to resume stalled wage negotiations with labour unions, his office said today.
The ministry said Gordhan met with members of the Eskom board and representatives of trade union federation Cosatu on Monday in a bid to “understand the concerns from organised labour about the wage dispute with Eskom and related matters”.
In response, Cosatu officials listed the power utility’s refusal to offer a wage increase, the manner in which negotiations have been conducted and concerns about the impact of the independent power producer’s programme on jobs in the mining sector.
Gordhan in turn explained the fraught financial environment in which Eskom was operating and the fact that it was unsustainable for it to continue borrowing money to pay its wage bill.
He also stressed that the government does not have the money to continue bailing out distressed state-owned enterprises.
However, Gordhan also made it plain that it was not proper for the power utility to raise its wish to downsize its staff component of some 47 000 – to which the unions are opposed – in the current clash on wages.
“The minister agreed that it was improper to raise the issue of down-sizing at the same time as the current wage negotiations. The minister undertook to discuss the resumption of negotiations.”
Gordhan said he was in no position to determine or dictate the kind of wage offer that Eskom tabled to staff, but he offered to convene a meeting between the utility and the trade union federation where the company’s finances could be discussed.
“It is the responsibility of the Eskom Board to determine what kind of wage increase Eskom can offer its employees, within the framework of the Board’s fiduciary responsibilities. The minister is in no position to instruct the Board on this issue.
“In addition, the Minister offered to convene an information-sharing session between Eskom and Cosatu so that the company’s financial position is understood and taken into account by all parties.”
Gordhan also urged all parties to handle the wage negotiations in a constructive manner and said his department was trying to ensure other labour unions, including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), returned to the negotiation table.
“All parties are called upon to desist from violence, intimidation or the disruption of coal deliveries to power station. It is in the interest of everyone concerned – workers, unions, employers, government and the public – that there is a continuous supply of electricity and that nothing is done to compromise the growth of our economy so that more jobs can be created.”
Eskom warned today that threatened strike action risked disrupting electricity supply.
The wage talks broke down last week when Eskom stood firm on a zero percent pay increase, which unions say will translate into a real decrease for workers given inflation.
Wage talks collapsed last week after trade unions accused Eskom of bad faith.
– African News Agency (ANA)