Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Power utility Eskom now says it is not able to give guarantees that power supplies in the country will not be disrupted during labour unrest over wages.

On Thursday, thousands of workers affiliated to the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA will embark on nationwide lunch-time pickets.

The employees are protesting against the company’s 0% wage increase offer and have demanded 15%, while Solidarity members tabled 9%.

Wage negotiations deadlocked last week.

Operations at nine Eskom power stations were disrupted on Wednesday, as some employees took part in an illegal strike, barricading and intimidating nonstriking colleagues. The affected stations include Camden, Arnot, Matla, Hendrina, Komati, Grootvlei and Duvha, all based in Mpumalanga.

“With those amounts of stations we certainly cannot give a guarantee that the security of supply is not under threat,” said Eskom executive for risk and sustainability Thava Govender. “It’s a challenge and we are doing our best to ensure we have sufficient capacity on the system to meet demand.”

This was in sharp contrast to a statement Eskom issued on Tuesday, when it said it had put contingency plans in place to keep the lights on.

Govender said the contingency plans had relied on workers affiliated to trade union Solidarity, which said it would not take part in Thursday’s industrial action.

The NUM and the Numsa declared a dispute with Eskom at the Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration and Mediation on Wednesday, paving the way for independent facilitation of negotiations between the parties.

Eskom employees are considered essential service workers and cannot take part in a strike.

Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe did not rule out the possibility of the utility moving from its 0% offer.

The company was willing to look at a different opinion and neutral view that would be provided by the CCMA mediator, Hadebe said.

Eskom said the nonadjustment of salaries was just one of many interventions being implemented to turn around the ailing organisation.

Hadebe described the decision as “difficult and courageous”, saying Eskom also planned to reduce capital expenditure to save R50bn in the next five years, while also reducing operations expenses.

Eskom has debt amounting to R367bn.

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za