Sunday, July 04, 2010

South Africa Unions Drop Strike Threat at Eskom Utility

South Africa unions drop strike threat at Eskom utility

Sun Jul 4, 2010 4:20pm GMT
By Shapi Shacinda

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African unions dropped Sunday a threat to strike at power utility Eskom this week after receiving a higher wage offer, ending concerns about electricity supplies during the soccer World Cup.

Widespread power cuts could also have dented manufacturing and mining companies' output in Africa's biggest economy, the world's top platinum and fourth-largest gold producer.

For the first time the unions conceded that a stoppage at Eskom would have been illegal under current laws, which prevent workers at the state-owned company from striking because they provide an essential service.

The decision was taken jointly by officials of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the biggest union at Eskom with about half of the 32,000 staff.

The Numsa and NUM said they felt Eskom's offer of a 9 percent pay rise was the best they could get, and both resolved not to support any strike action.

"We think that it is a very serious offer and ask our members to seriously review it. We are not in a position to support an illegal strike by workers," Irvin Jim, the general secretary for the Numsa, told a media briefing.

"We therefore urge our members in light of the new offer not to engage in any unprotected strike action."

Eskom had warned that it would punish workers if they went ahead with their strike action.

Had the strike happened, there was a likelihood of blackouts which would have embarrassed the country and angered fans during the World Cup, which ends on July 11. Stadiums are equipped with their own power generators but millions of fans watching from home on TV could have been affected.

Numsa has some 7,500 members at the utility, similar to a third union, Solidarity, which had asked Eskom to revise its offer by Monday before deciding whether to join a strike.

According to the unions, Eskom raised its pay offer to 9 percent from 8.5 percent, nearly double the inflation rate of 4.6 percent, and said it would pay a 1,500 rand ($194) per month housing allowance, up from its previous offer of 1,000 rand.

The unions had wanted a 9 percent wage rise and a housing allowance of 2,500 rand.

They vowed to lobby for a change to the law which describes all Eskom staff, including cleaners and security guards, as essential workers to ensure their right to strike is not curbed.

Last year the unions called off a planned strike at Eskom at the last minute after accepting a pay deal.

Eskom was not available for a comment but signed a joint statement with the conciliator and unions agreeing to the new terms.

Solidarity spokesman Dirk Hermann said the union would also ask its members to accept the offer. "We are optimistic that a final agreement should be reached this week," Hermann said.

(Writing by James Macharia, Editing by David Stamp)

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