Pravin Gordhan. Picture: SUPPLIED
Pravin Gordhan. Picture: SUPPLIED

The standoff between Eskom and trade unions is set to continue this week after a meeting with public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan could not be secured. This is despite both parties agreeing on salaries.

Eskom’s decision to discipline employees involved in the wildcat work stoppages is still holding up the signing of the agreement with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Although the minister’s office confirmed he had received the joint letter from the unions on Monday requesting an urgent meeting, it said: "In terms of the section 150 of the Labour Relations Act, the current dispute between labour unions and Eskom is being dealt with before a statutory body that has the legal authority to resolve the dispute — the CCMA [The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration]."

Suggesting that Gordhan would not be stepping in as yet, his spokesperson Adrian Lackay said: "The minister hopes that all matters pertaining to the labour dispute can be resolved as expeditiously and as constructively as possible before the CCMA."

Illegal strikes

The parties at Eskom had already concluded the terms of the wage agreement over which workers went on illegal strikes when the new impasse over the charges arose.

Thousands of workers would be affected by the decision, according to Numsa, and the wage agreement would not be signed until then.

The unions said they had requested a meeting with Gordhan last Thursday.

However, Eskom said it would not backtrack on its intention to charge the workers who engaged in industrial action that "placed the entire power grid system at risk and again enforced load shedding alerts and necessitated gas-fired turbines to be initiated at great expense to the nation".

Meanwhile, NUM and Numsa said their members were also not budging, insisting Eskom should reverse its decision to charge them before the wage deal was signed. "Workers will not allow a situation where they feel intimidated and have said we [unions] cannot sign this thing," said NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu.

The unions hoped Gordhan would read Eskom the riot act as he had done after the power utility initially offered workers a 0% wage hike in June.

"It is untenable that the company is effectively being asked to both condone and be complicit in the unlawful actions of some Eskom employees and their unions," said Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe.