Reality check: Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has asked unions to propose how the wage hikes would be funded. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/GCIS
Reality check: Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has asked unions to propose how the wage hikes would be funded. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/GCIS

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has dared Eskom unions to table proposals on how the fiscus can foot the bill for wage increases when they meet with him.

This was after the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) had sought intervention from Nene and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan after they failed to reach an agreement with Eskom on Tuesday.

The finance ministry told Business Day there were no official meeting requests from the unions as yet.

Nene’s office explained on Wednesday that the unionists would have to attend the meeting when it eventually happened in their capacity as both workers and taxpayers, with each role requiring a different approach.

"Should it be that they want the fiscus to fund the proposed wage increases, the minister of finance would kindly request that they meet him wearing two hats: (a) as trade unionists and (b) as taxpayers. As trade unionists, they can request the funding, but as taxpayers, they can explain how they propose to finance the funding they request," said the finance ministry.

Three weeks ago Nene told a local television station during an investor road show in the UK that there was no money to bail out Eskom to help the entity with the salary hikes.

Unions were expected to start consultations with members to get new mandates on Eskom’s latest wage offer of 7.5% in 2018, tabled on Tuesday. The offer also includes a 6.5% hike in 2019 and 6.25% in 2020.

Marathon talks that lasted for 13 hours on Tuesday 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 unions are demanding 8% in the first year and a once-off 12% of workers’ yearly income as bonuses, among other demands. They said the meeting with Nene and Gordhan would help the parties resolve the difficult talks amicably and reach a settlement.

Speaking during the recent World Economic Forum roundtable, Nene said Eskom posed a serious challenge to attracting investment in SA.

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