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News : Battle on to avert strike at Eskom

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has its work cut out for it this week as it tries to broker a deal between Eskom and three unions over a wage deal that, if not resolved, could result in a strike.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA, Solidarity and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have declared a dispute with Eskom. The unions are demanding an 18 percent wage increase. Eskom has offered 5.5 percent.

Last year workers received a 10.5 percent wage increase and the year before 6.5 percent.

The implications of a strike at Eskom, which the NUM says is almost certain, are potentially serious as it could jeopardise power supply at a critical time for the country - the World Cup, although stadiums and broadcasters do have back-up power generators.

This comes after the CCMA recently secured a deal that ended the Transnet strike, the effects of which are still being felt around the country.

Neren Rau, the chief executive of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said another infrastructure strike following so soon after the Transnet strike would test the tolerance of the economy as businesses, especially small and medium-sized firms, were severely affected by the Transnet stayaway.

The Eskom dispute is just one of many that the CCMA anticipates in the weeks ahead. It has prepared for the strike season that hits South Africa mid-year and which has been exacerbated by the World Cup.

Nerine Kahn, the head of the CCMA, said on Friday: "It is strike season. We expect it to get worse."

Industries identified as high risk for industrial action include retail and hospitality and the CCMA has prepared for an increased work load with minimum staff allowed to take leave and part time commissioners alerted to be on standby.
Strikes that are under way or imminent include one at Massdiscounters' Game and Dion Wired stores, which is due to start on Thursday to protest over retrenchments, while at Dischem and Netcare unions are striking over wages.

In the hospitality sector the SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union said it was not aware of any disputes.

Elsewhere a strike by Cosatu over electricity tariffs is on the cards. Discussion on this will resume at Nedlac next Monday.

Rau said: "We have to avert this (Cosatu) strike. It will dramatically and severely impact the economy. It has potentially dire consequences."

Eskom is declared an essential service, which means that some, if not all staff, might not be allowed to strike.

But Kahn said: "Just because you work at Eskom does not mean you are an essential service."

NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said: "Unions are united. Our intent is to tackle Eskom on wages and the housing allowance. Eskom cannot give workers 5.5 percent when it has raised tariffs so sharply."

The CCMA will meet with the parties on Friday. But Seshoka said: "It will not be resolved as Eskom has become so arrogant."

If the CCMA issues a certificate of non-resolution, a strike could proceed.

NUM went on strike more than a week ago at Eskom. But this was cut short after Eskom succeed in getting an interdict against the union, a ruling which the NUM has appealed.

Seshoka said the interdict was granted because the union had not followed due process and not because Eskom was an essential service.

Solidarity spokesman Jaco Kleynhans said the issue of which staff were essential had not been determined because Eskom was dragging its feet on a minimum service agreement. BUSREP

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