Eskom strike is off

Intervention by top government officials in the Eskom debacle is believed to have averted a strike that was scheduled to start today.

About 29,000 workers affiliated to the National Union of Mineworkers, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity, had vowed to down tools over a wage dispute that had dragged on for weeks.

The strike would have embarrassed the country in the final week of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Eskom had last week dared workers to go on strike, insisting that it did not have money to pay them the 9percent wage hike and R2500 housing allowance they were demanding.

NUM and Numsa yesterday announced that Eskom had revised its previous wage offer of 8,5percent to 9percent and R1500 housing allowance.

The negotiations were facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA)

The unions, which were still to communicate the offer to their members, appealed to workers to accept the new offer.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said: "We consider 9percent and the R1500 housing allowance a substantive move. We will take this to our members. We hope they will accept it."

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni hinted that intervention by top government officials had put pressure on Eskom to review its position.

The agreement, which was reached yesterday, followed damning revelations that parastatals, government departments and municipalities had splurged more than R110million on World Cup tickets. The reports said that Eskom alone had spent R12million for its executives.

A source told Sowetan that after Eskom briefed government officials, including President Jacob Zuma, they were angry about the revelation that Eskom had spent R12 million on World Cup tickets while insisting they did not have money for the workers.

He said: "The reports on spending on the World Cup tickets put them (Eskom) on the spot. Zuma is said to have been very angry. Workers were also angry.

"We (union leaders) were trying to reason with them to delay the strike until the World Cup was over, but they did not want to listen. Spending so much on World Cup tickets would have made things even worse."

NUM and Numsa said they still wanted clarity on the minimum service level agreement, which would explain who should be considered as essential service worker.

Baleni said their lawyers were studying the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union agreement, also considered an essential service, to compare with their proposal.

The CCMA confirmed that the parties had met and Eskom tabled a new offer.

Eskom head of human resources Bhabhalazi Bulunga said continued negotiations made them change their minds.

After insisting that the company could not afford what the unions were demanding, Bulunga said details of how they would finance the new offer would be announced later.