Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SWIEGERS
Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SWIEGERS

The two biggest unions representing workers at Eskom have called an urgent media briefing on Thursday after the debt-laden state-owned power utility said its 1.5% wage increase offer is final.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) — which represents the majority of Eskom’s 46,000-strong workforce — and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) are demanding a 15% wage increase, while Solidarity is demanding 9%.

The unions’ demands are above the 3.2% inflation rate recorded in March and higher than the 4.3% average the Reserve Bank expects for 2021.

The parties, which met at the bargaining forum for a second round of wage negotiations from Monday to Thursday, have declined the 1.5% offer.

In a statement issued on Wednesday night, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said: “Eskom’s offer of a 1.5% increase in the basic salary is dependent on the efficiencies and savings to be realised from reviewing certain elements of the employee wages benefits where there are excesses.

“Eskom has identified possible adjustments in the overtime, travel and transfer benefits, among others. Eskom proposed a 1.5% adjustment in basic salary, provided the unions agree to Eskom’s proposals to review employee benefits, and agree to the Eskom response in terms of union demands.”

Mantshantsha said the power utility, which has been described by ratings agencies as the single biggest risk to the SA economy, reiterated its offer and the associated conditions, and recorded that this is the “final offer”.

“Organised labour rejected this offer and urged Eskom to reconsider its position. The three unions have demanded, among others, a 15% wage increase and increases in numerous other benefits. Eskom maintains these demands are unaffordable. The talks will continue [Thursday]," he said.

Eskom pays the third-highest average salary in SA — R785,557 a year — but is buckling under a R480bn debt pile and depends on government bailouts to keep the lights on and the economy functioning.

The power utility, which has been hollowed out by years of corruption and malfeasance linked to state capture, estimated to have cost the economy R500bn, wants unions to agree to a number of proposals, including that overtime hours worked be paid in the next payroll cycle after being processed and approved, instead of the current practice in which workers bank them for a year before cashing them in.

The utility also proposed that a fixed rate be implemented for any overtime worked on Sundays and public holidays, instead of paying double the applicable rate of pay. Eskom also proposed not to pay any transfer benefits if the transfer is initiated by an employee.

The unions have dismissed these proposals, saying they will not agree to any downward variation of hard-earned worker benefits.

NUM national spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said the NUM and Numsa will hold an urgent media briefing at Woodmead in Johannesburg at 2pm on Thursday, to give an update on the wage talks.

The NUM is affiliated to labour federation Cosatu, and Numsa to the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu).

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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