Eskom said on Friday morning that it had “exercised its right and made a decision to implement its final 1.5% basic wage increase and changes to the conditions of service offer with effect from 01 July 2021”.
Wage talks broke down on 2 June and a meeting a fortnight ago at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) failed to resolve the dispute. The three unions involved in the talks are the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity. The impasse has been referred to the CCMA for arbitration and it is not clear exactly when that process will take place.
Unions are prevented from going on strike at Eskom because its services are considered to be essential.
NUM, which has been demanding a 15% wage hike, holds that Eskom’s implementation move is unlawful and it is therefore taking the matter to court, according to a letter it sent to Eskom on Thursday and which Business Maverick has obtained.
“In protection of employees’ rights, be informed that NUM will be activating applicable judicial measures shortly in this regard,” the letter says. “NUM asserts on record that your intent to implement Eskom’s final salary offer while ‘compulsory arbitration’ is still to take place is unlawful.”
The bottom line is that in NUM’s view, an employer cannot implement a change to wages or working conditions before the arbitration outcome is finally reached.
Eskom’s financial situation is fragile but NUM has long maintained that its members should not be penalised because of past mismanagement and outright looting at the ailing SOE. There is certainly a lot of bad blood between the union and Eskom’s current management.
Eskom, for its part, maintains that the adjustments it plans to implement next week “will enable management to better protect jobs at Eskom, address and manage the risk to the organisation’s sustainability, allowing Eskom to play its critical role of supplying electricity to the South African economy and in the public interest”.
In the current climate, Eskom would almost certainly have had a strike on its hands if such a route was legal. It remains to be seen how far NUM’s planned judicial challenge goes and the road that other unions will take. DM/BM