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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

End in sight for Eskom wage talks as Numsa, NUM wait on workers to get on board

The unions say they are seriously considering the proposal facilitated by the CCMA.

The ongoing wage dispute between power utility Eskom and trade unions could be resolved soon, but it all depends on whether the two major unions – the National Union of Metalworkers of South African (Numsa) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) receive mandates from their members to sign the latest wage proposal.

Both Numsa and NUM said they were seriously considering the proposal facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), but both declined to divulge the details of the offer.

Sources within the trade union movement, however, told The Citizen that Eskom had agreed to raise the minimum salary to above R5 000 at the last CCMA meeting.

This is the outcome of negotiations after an intervention by CCMA in terms of section 150 of the Labour Relations Act, which allowed the commission to invite parties and encourage them to settle. Section 150 of the Labour Relations Act gives the CCMA the right to intervene and facilitate a resolution in an elongated dispute, but the commission’s proposal is not binding for the parties.

Basically the dispute is between Numsa and NUM against Eskom, while the Solidarity union is merely accompanying them as the latter has long accepted all the Eskom offer. The two unions initially demanded 8% increase and R500 housing allowance, and alternatively, 7.5 percent increase with a housing allowance based on the CPI.

But Eskom refused to go beyond R200, which the utility proposed could be further negotiated after two years.

This week the three unions held talks with the Eskom management team under CCMA auspices. “The purpose of the meeting was to finalise this round of wage talks, with the view to settling the dispute. Eskom have a made a proposal which we have sent to our members for them to consider,” Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said.

However, Jim declined to share the details of the offer with the media “because we want to give our members space to make up their own minds on whether to accept or reject the offer”.

“If our members are happy with the latest proposal, then we can sign the agreement. We have arranged general meetings at different plants all over the country over the next few days to discuss the proposal in detail with our members,” Jim said.

NUM chief negotiator at Eskom Helen Diatile told The Citizen that it was important that Eskom should accede to the deal breaker the union proposed including the payment of bonuses that were due in early July.

Eskom had refused to pay bonuses because company made no profit due to the workers’ failure to honour their compact to the shareholders. It said shares would not be paid, or their shares would be paid below the expected level. It also claimed they could not achieve unqualified audit outcomes for the utility.

But NUM was adamant the bonus payment was a deal breaker. “Without a bonus, there will be no agreement as per our member’ mandate. As the NUM we demand that Eskom pay the hard working workers who averted load shedding their bonuses. As it is reflected in the performance scoresheet, workers performed exceptionally well,” the union said.

According to NUM, Eskom’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) of R45.4 billion, as compared to R37.5 billion of 2017, reflects a healthy increase of 21.1%. The performance contract as presented on May 30, 2018, has only one qualifier, which is the EBITDA the union attributed to the workers’ excellent performance.

“Workers have worked hard to improve the EBITDA, but it is not their call. In our view, the executives are the ones who have the compact with the shareholders. Why must we be punished for shareholder compact which we don’t have as workers? Besides, to us those shares are still growing and would be paid to them at higher level. They have a wrong interpretation about the situation,” Diatile said.

She said her union was under pressure from its membership who picketed and were pushing to negotiate at plant level by themselves.

Diatile criticised Eskom for trying to divide NUM and Numsa by saying the talks had been settled or an agreement had been reached. She said both unions wanted to first get mandates from their members before they could sign the agreement.

“Eskom team are supposed to go to their principals about the proposal instead of trying to divide our members and pushing for us to sign,” Diatile said.

The parties are scheduled to meet at the CCMA to report on the responses of their members to the CCMA proposal on August 8.

– ericn@citizen.co.za

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