National Union of Mineworkers members chant and sing during a central committee gathering. File photo: SOWETAN
National Union of Mineworkers members chant and sing during a central committee gathering. File photo: SOWETAN

Embattled power utility Eskom’s woes escalated on Thursday after unions turned down its final offer and promised an unlawful strike on Tuesday.

The unions warned if the negotiations set for Friday did not yield desirable outcomes, SA could be plunged into darkness. Members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the majority union at Eskom, resolved on Thursday at a shopsteward council in Johannesburg that should Eskom not accede to their 12% counter-demand they would down tools.

Although their work is considered an essential service, sources told Business Day they had decided to go on strike, saying Eskom had been intransigent during the wage talks.

NUM, Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) are expected to meet with Eskom on Friday to table their counter-proposals to Eskom’s “take it or leave it” final wage offer made last Wednesday. The power utility has offered wage increases of 6.2% for 2018 and 6% for 2019-20. This followed its initial 0% wage offer, which resulted in workers embarking on industrial action. They stayed away from work and allegedly sabotaged Eskom equipment, leading to rolling blackouts across the country.

NUM members who spoke to Business Day said although they had resolved on 12%, they would settle for 9%.

During the last round of negotiations, unions consoli-dated their demands, proposing 9% wage hikes in 2018. How-ever, as talks reconvene, organised labour will be reporting back on different positions as mandated by their members.

Numsa members have also rejected the offer, although sources said the union was still willing to give negotiations a chance. Insiders said members had taken a “hardline” towards Eskom’s offer, more so because of the entity’s insistence on its partnership with independent power producers.

Meanwhile, Solidarity has said it would recommend the wage offer to its members, with the likelihood that the union would accept the deal on Friday.

This week it was revealed that Eskom, which depends on government support to service its R368bn of debt, is evaluating a “liability management exercise” as it seeks to implement a turnaround plan, which includes increasing tariffs and laying off about 15,000 workers. Eskom has since denied the retrenchment plan and would not comment on wage negotiations.

This came just a week after credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s put the entity on its list of risks to SA. S&P downgraded Eskom earlier in 2018 further into junk status at CCC+ with a negative outlook.