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South African unions reject Eskom’s zero-increase in wages

15 June, 2018Thousands of workers picketed outside Eskom offices in Johannesburg on 14 June to demand a 15 per cent wage increase and reject a no-increase announcement by state-owned energy company Eskom, who is arguing that it is broke.

With the cost of living going up because of tax increases and fuel price hikes, unions in South Africa argue that Eskom shows little concern for the welfare of workers and their families.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, are collaborating to force Eskom to dump the zero-increase and vowed to continue picketing nationally.

After negotiations with Eskom reached a deadlock and the issue is heading for arbitration at the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration, unions resorted to picketing. Tthe minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordan, said in a meeting with the Congress of South African Trade Unions and other stakeholders that wage negotiations will be reopened.

The unions, who are against the privatization of the state entity which produces 95 per cent of South Africa’s electricity, say most of Eskom’s woes can be traced back to the IMF and World Bank loans, poor management and corruption, and the decision to put Independent Power Producers (IPPs) onto the national grid. Eskom is implicated in corruption in the State of Capture report by then public protector Thuli Madonsela.

In April the ministry of energy signed an agreement with 27 IPPs to produce electricity through renewable energy sources mainly solar and wind. While the unions agree on the use of renewable energy they say that there is no Just Transition plan in place to protect 92,000 jobs that will be lost if five coal-fired power stations in Mpumalanga are closed. Such a plan will also involve training and absorption of workers into the renewable energy sector.

Says the unions in a joint press statement: “It’s a fact that Eskom has a high wage bill but that can’t be blamed or attributed to poor workers who are the lowest earners”, as workers and communities were not amongst those who got renewable energy contracts.

Diana Junquera Curiel, IndustriALL energy director says:

“It’s ridiculous for Eskom to announce that workers will not get an increase when inflation is going up. Instead, the company must negotiate with unions on wage increases. There must also be dialogue with unions on the Just Transition plan and on Independent Power Producers contracts."