Eskom workers have started picketing outside Megawatt Park in Sunninghill against management's decision to come to the negotiation table with a zero-percent wage increase. Pic: PENWELL DLAMINI/TIMESLIVE
Eskom workers have started picketing outside Megawatt Park in Sunninghill against management's decision to come to the negotiation table with a zero-percent wage increase. Pic: PENWELL DLAMINI/TIMESLIVE

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) will meet with its members next week to consider whether a shutdown at the embattled power utility, Eskom, will take place during the week of the May elections. 

The union's shutdown threat came after President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement in February that Eskom would be split into three state-owned entities: generation, transmission and distribution.

The current power crisis could have serious implications for Ramaphosa’s promise of growing the economy. It could also be a public relations nightmare for the ruling party, coming one  month ahead of the elections.

NUM met Ramaphosa, public enterprise minister Pravin Gordhan and energy minister Jeff Radebe on Monday.

NUM general secretary David Sipunzi said the meeting had “quality results” which needed to be considered.

He said the union would consult its members in the next seven days on the outcome of the meeting and whether the shutdown should go ahead.

The union was happy with the outcomes of the meeting because it had opened the channel for dialogue, Sipunzi said.

Workers are concerned about “inconsistent” messages from the government on the unbundling of Eskom and what it means for jobs.

Sipunzi said Gordhan had reassured the union that no instruction had been issued to Eskom to start retrenching workers. However, managers were allegedly told to put together lists of people they did not need in their units.

NUM in a statement said it was relieved after Ramaphosa gave the assurance at the meeting that no jobs would be lost in the process of unbundling Eskom and that it would remain 100% state-owned.

The splitting up of Eskom is being strongly opposed by NUM and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).

NUM national energy co-ordinator Paris Mashego said if the union did strike during election week, members would not work or vote.

NUM is a member of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), an alliance partner of the ANC. Cosatu is  campaigning for the party ahead of  the general election.

The union, however, said that despite the meeting with Ramaphosa it would still go ahead with its march to the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg at the end of March.

Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said the trade union federation did not support a strike at this stage and was giving negotiations a chance, considering the devastating effect  a strike would have on the economy and workers.

“What is at stake now is no longer only about Eskom employees, it is the entire workforce of SA in all sectors,” he said. Without electricity nobody would be working.

Pamla said Cosatu’s position was that it could not trust elected leaders to merely tell them there was a solution for Eskom, as they have had that opportunity since 2008, when the country first experienced load shedding.

He said Cosatu wanted to be given a more coherent turnaround strategy for Eskom, which included the funding model.

The SA Communist Party said it would hold a meeting with Cosatu in the near future where the state of state-owned entities, including Eskom, would be discussed to cement a common approach of achieving a turnaround.

Spokesman Alex Mashilo said it was now a matter of record that the crisis at Eskom was the result of a combination of poor policy choices and governance decay under state capture, and as part of its mismanagement, maladministration and looting.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za; mailovichc@businesslive.co.za