Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Unions, Eskom Still Can't Agree in South Africa

Unions, Eskom still can’t agree

Alistair Anderson
South African Business Day
2010/06/29 06:28:08 PM

Unions representing workers at Eskom have not yet accepted or rejected a new labour offer from the parastatal.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) and Solidarity had said that, following their meeting with Eskom today, they would decide whether or not they would take labour action that could involve a strike.

But, it appears the unions underestimated how much research they needed to do before making a decision either way.

The spokesman for the NUM, Lesiba Seshoka told Business Day he had not yet reached a consensus of whether his members wanted to strike and that “even though a strike was still a very possible response to the parastatal’s offer,” there were many “legal hurdles that needed to be discussed before any action could be taken”.

Eskom has repeatedly said its workers could not strike legally because they were part of an essential service.

Solidarity's spokesman, Jaco Kleynhans, and Numsa's spokesman, Castro Ngobese, said the union would only announce a response to the new Eskom deal tomorrow.

Mr Seshoka did concede that it was positive that the power utility had put a housing allowance, improved on from last year’s agreed upon benefit, forward.

“I told my members it was a very good sign. We need to remember that government employees get smaller allowances than the Eskom ones do,” he said.

However, labour analyst Andrew Levy believed the clash over housing allowances could have been avoided or, at least, resolved more quickly.

“There are three major things wrong with the way in which wage bargaining was conducted in SA,” Mr Levy said.

Mr Levy said the unions made a regular mistake of approaching negotiations with the precondition of wanting to settle the last year’s demands before settling the current year’s.

Secondly, he said parties automatically conceded that wage deals needed to be backdated and thirdly, he said management did not engage in self-funding wage increase methods.

“Employers could cut down elsewhere to fund higher wages. If they do not, they risk greater wage drift, which is the uncontrollable upward drift of wages”.

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