South Africa’s state-owned power utility Eskom has triggered a dispute process with unions over pay, leaving a government-affiliated mediator to try to forge an agreement and avert potential disruption to power supplies.
A previous wage dispute in 2018 led to electricity supply interruptions and Eskom, which produces the vast majority of the power in Africa’s most industrialised nation, has warned the same could happen again.
Wage talks began with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and Solidarity last month, with unions demanding above-inflation increases.
“Eskom, which relies on taxpayer cash bailouts to maintain its going concern status, has clearly demonstrated these demands are unaffordable,” Eskom spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha told Reuters.
Eskom said it made a final offer of a 1.5% increase in basic salaries, which unions rejected.
“We view that as a declaration of war. Eskom is refusing to bargain,” said NUM energy sector coordinator Khangela Baloyi.
The offer is below current inflation levels of 4.4%. Unions argue their demands are affordable and workers should not bear the brunt of Eskom’s debt burden.
“They have got money for looting but they have no money for workers’ wages,” said NUMSA spokeswomen Phakamile Hlubi-Majola
The dispute is now expected to go to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
Eskom, which is choking under more than R460 billion ($32 billion) of debt, imposes regular power cuts as it grapples with repeated faults at its ailing coal-fired power stations.