Blackouts loom as eskom talks fail

WAGE talks between Eskom and three unions have broken down completely and the country is now likely to face electricity blackouts.

The unions, which represent 29500 workers, announced yesterday that they were itching to go on strike and it could possibly start tomorrow.

They were, however, still waiting for a certificate of no resolution from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

The National Union of Mineworkers , Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA said they were suspicious that the government was using underhand methods to stall the strike after the CCMA failed to issue the certificate since last Thursday.

The unions said they were not backing down from their 9percent demand and a R5000 housing allowance. They initially wanted 15percent.

Eskom's offer is an 8percent basic salary increase, a 5,6percent rise on key allowances and a R12000 per employee once-off ex-gratia payment, paid in two instalments - next month and in July next year.

Eskom human resources managing director Bhabhalazi Bulunga said the utility could not afford the housing allowance demand.

"There are 38000 employees and if we agree to the R5000 housing allowance, it will cost Eskom R1,8billion. That is unaffordable.

"We are optimistic that an agreement will be reached soon. We are a national power utility and employees cannot embark on a strike, they would be breaking the law," Bulunga said.

Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese said: "We are ready. It is not a threat. When blackouts occur, unions must not be blamed. We have learnt through our sources that the certificate will be issued tomorrow and the matter will be required to go for a private arbitration.

"The World Cup has come and it will go and our members will still be hungry."

Earlier this month, Eskom announced that it made a net profit of R3,6billion compared to a R9,6billion loss last year. This was due to a slight increase in power usage, but mainly due to the 25percent tariff increase implemented this year.