Johannesburg – Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe has committed to reopening wage talks with trade unions.
He was booed by workers outside the power utility’s head office Megawatt Park in Sunninghill on Thursday afternoon, where he received a memorandum during a lunchtime picket.
Disgruntled workers belonging to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Numsa are demanding a 15% wage increase, while the cash-strapped power utility has said it cannot afford any increases.
Hadebe spoke briefly amidst the heckles, but was cheered when he said said Eskom management had noted the unions’ concerns that were read out in the memorandum.
Earlier Eskom had said that its network was “constrained today due to the acts of sabotage and intimidation”.
There had been “several incidents of road blockades, attacks on staff, and wilful damage of electricity infrastructure”.
“As a result, all road coal deliveries have been stopped for security reasons. The safety of all our employees is of paramount importance to us during this time,” it said in the earlier statement.
Before Hadebe addressed employees, National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) President Andrew Chirwa said the power utility was seeking a court interdict to stop the strike.
He warned that the picket was a “warning bullet” and said that if Eskom continued only offer workers 0% wage increases, they would shut down “all the lights in the country”.
Chirwa added that Eskom was spending R34bn on the Independent Power Producers (IPP) despite the country having an energy surplus.
“These IPPs are the same as Gupta corruption but they are not Indian corruption…this is White Monopoly Capital.”
“There is no New Dawn… it’s a new dawn of 0% increase that wants to sell Eskom,” Chirwa told crowds of cheering workers.
Unions handed over a memorandum to Eskom leadership at 12:40 on Thursday. The memorandum states that Eskom has created a “self-imposed crisis” by signing IPPs onto the national grid. It adds that, until money lost to corruption is recovered, they reject Eskom’s claims of poverty.
Keeping the lights on
Earlier on Thursday, the power utility’s spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said Eskom’s ability to keep the lights on could be compromised with intimidation and road blockages “rife” at a number of power stations and regional offices.
Phasiwe also tweeted that the power supply to Eskom’s head office in Sunninghill had “mysteriously” been cut off.
Six power stations rely on local coal supply, and these will be the most affected by the delivery stoppages.
The parastatal’s management team held an emergency meeting earlier on Thursday morning to address the possibility of load shedding.
Phasiwe promised to provide regular updates on various media platforms. A placard circulating on social media warned workers against reporting for duty at Eskom during the one-day strike saying that people would be “subjecting” themselves to risk.
However, Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi distanced the labour organisation from the threatening poster.
NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu, meanwhile, said police on Wednesday night fired rubber bullets to disperse workers who were gathered outside the power stations in Kendal, Thuthuka, Hendrina and Arnot.
“The police are intimidating the workers, in what is an attempt to prevent the picket. One employee was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet outside Arnot power station.”
“The workers will be joining the picket despite the threats. They are determined to make our voices heard,” he said.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, Eskom Hadebe said that contingency plans were in place to keep the lights on during the one-day strike but cautioned there were no guarantees the power utility would be able to do this.
Labour federation the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) leaders met Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan on Wednesday afternoon, and they said he promised to call Eskom’s negotiators back to the table and up their offer, in order to avert a full-blown strike.