Members of the National Union of Mineworkers. PICTURE: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Members of the National Union of Mineworkers. PICTURE: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Trade unions have requested a meeting with the finance and public enterprises ministers and Eskom's board, to fast-track wage negotiations.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan's intervention ended an earlier stalemate when Eskom was offering no increase for 2018.

Although the unions have agreed to take Eskom's latest wage offer of 7.5% in 2018 back to members, they said they wanted to speak directly with the power utility's shareholders as they seek an intervention in the difficult talks.

The offer also includes a 6.5% increase in 2019 and and 6.25% in 2020.

Marathon talks that lasted for 13 hours on Tuesday may have narrowed the gap between the parties, but they remained bogged down by demands over housing allowances and bonuses.

Eskom management told unions they were still waiting for audited financial statements in order to make proposals on bonuses, while they offered inflation-targeted housing allowance increases.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has confirmed it will not resort to strike action just yet, as earlier threatened.

The NUM, Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) will begin consultations with members over the new wage offer.

High debt levels

Sources involved in the talks had told Business Day on Tuesday evening that a settlement looked unlikely, with the biggest stumbling block being the housing allowance and bonus demands.

Business Day understands that the Eskom employees had reduced their housing allowance demand from R1,000 to R500. Eskom still maintained it could not afford that.

The power utility is heavily borrowed, to the tune of R376bn, and a huge wage bill could worsen its financial position.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene recently said the government could not afford to bail Eskom out if the need arose.

Instead, the power utility has offered workers housing allowance increases based on the consumer price index for the next three years.

With its high debt levels, Eskom said it would be difficult to afford the wage demands in its current state, with management regularly emphasising that part of the reason it had offered workers no increase in the first instance was because it needed to make difficult changes if it were to stay afloat.

Gordhan has kept a close eye on the wage negotiations, with a facilitator from his office present at the talks.

On Tuesday, unions protested against the facilitator’s involvement in the talks, with NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu saying in a television interview that he was welcome to participate, but only as an observer.

Gordhan’s intervention ended a stalemate between Eskom and the unions two weeks ago after talks deadlocked due to Eskom’s 0% wage offer. Then, the country was faced with rolling mass blackouts as Eskom’s power supply constraints forced it to implement load shedding.

Although the minister recommended at the time that Eskom raise its offer, the government has since said it would not be able to fund the hikes.