Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Eskom has finally signed a three-year wage agreement with trade unions following three months of gruelling talks that deadlocked numerous times and affected electricity supply.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) acceded to the settlement proposal the utility made a month ago of 7.5% increases for 2018 and 7% for 2019 and 2020.

The agreement follows Eskom’s decision to declare a dispute of mutual interest at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) after the unions refused to sign the deal, demanding that the company drops its disciplinary charges against employees.

The power utility said it would act against employees who took part in illegal strikes in June and July, plunging the country into darkness when the company was forced to implement load shedding.

Workers went on a rampage after Eskom opened wage talks with a 0% wage hike offer that was widely criticised.

The company claimed its properties were vandalised in acts of sabotage meant to affect the power grid.

The agreement reached late on Wednesday night made no mention of the unions’ ultimatum not to sign until Eskom guaranteed it would not dismiss workers, despite the outcomes of disciplinary hearings. However, the unions got Eskom to agree that there would be no changes in workers’ conditions of service until 2021.

It was unclear how this would apply in reality, as Eskom has already admitted its staff complement was in need of a shakeup to ensure it was optimal and in line with industry norms globally.

Eskom’s finances have been in shambles for years after it became susceptible to corruption along with other state-owned companies that were allegedly targeted for looting during the past administration in government.

Two months ago Eskom said it would have to dip into its operational budget to finance the wage increases.

The government also indicated it was not prepared to foot the bill through yet another bail-out.

Eskom was in debt to the tune of R387bn at the end of March, with nearly all of it government guaranteed.

The power utility also has to pay workers R10,000 in one-off bonuses within 48 hours of signing the deal.

Numsa’s general secretary said in a statement issued on Thursday that workers faced “extreme provocation” during the negotiations.

“We thank our members for demonstrating militant discipline in the face of extreme provocation by the employer. We started at 0% and thanks to your efforts, we have secured an increase,” he said.

The third union at Eskom, Solidarity, signed the wage agreement in July.

NUM has described the 2018 negotiations with Eskom as the “most difficult ever” in its history.

“NUM is also worried that the industrial relations between Eskom and the trade unions is not good under the current Eskom leadership. We hope that the industrial relations between the parties will improve and bring stability that is necessary at the power utility,” said the union’s general secretary, David Sipunzi.

On the question of disciplinary action Numsa Spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, said the national office bearers of both Numsa and the National Union of Mineworkers were still negotiating with Eskom on the matter. “But the long and the short of it is that Eskom will be able to proceed with a disciplinary process, where there is evidence of misconduct,” she said. However there would be no dismals.