Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe addresses the media at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe addresses the media at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Was Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe naive to expect to escape industrial action with the offer to staff of a 0% pay increase — a number unprecedented since full unionisation became legal in the 1980s?

Or was it part of a cunning strategy to let Hadebe play the bad cop, with public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan then coming in as the good cop to urge flexibility? This might have been a good ploy, with a view to eventually settling on, say, 4.7%. But anything less than inflation would have been progress.

The new Eskom board, while it may be glowing with good intentions, has yet to demonstrate that it has the guts and the tactical shrewdness to deal with the unions. When Margaret Thatcher tackled the British trade unions in the 1980s, her key victory was over Arthur Scargill’s mineworkers. When Scargill took them out on strike in 1984, Thatcher’s government was able to sit it out because she had taken care in the summer to build up coal stockpiles at the power stations.

Last week, when the Eskom strike began, load-shedding followed — which suggests a failure by Hadebe’s executives to anticipate the obvious. He’ll need to become far more street smart in dealing with the unions. That is, if he doesn’t want Eskom to fall back into fine but meaningless words from the boardroom and useless wheelspins on the ground.

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