Eskom can’t assure that lights stay on

Eskom cannot guarantee a secure electricity supply as workers embark on illegal industrial action and planned lunchtime pickets this week.

Wage negotiations between the financially distressed power utility and labour unions deadlocked last week‚ resulting in a dispute declaration and the rolling out of mass action by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).

Despite the unions vowing they would not embark on an illegal strike‚ Eskom said yesterday there had been disruptions at several power stations‚ affecting some units‚ while coal could not be delivered at some operations.

Unions are demanding between 9% and 15% wage hikes for Eskom staffers‚ but Eskom management said it was unable to offer any increases due to financial constraints as it struggles to turn the ailing company around.

Eskom acting group executive for risk and sustainability Thava Govender said in Johannesburg yesterday afternoon that protesters had prevented employees from entering power stations in Mpumalanga‚ barricading entrances and threatening workers.

“We were short on operating staff and maintenance staff‚” he said.

On Tuesday, Eskom had given an assurance that the lights would stay on.

But chief executive Phakamani Hadebe said yesterday that supply would be affected if workers failed to keep to prescribed processes.

He said the company was relying on its emergency response command and the police to keep the peace today when NUM and Numsa members take part in countrywide lunchtime pickets.

Eskom is considered an essential service and its employees cannot take part in strikes.

Hadebe did not rule out the possibility of the utility moving from its 0% offer.

The company was willing to look at a different opinion and neutral view that would be provided by a Commission.