ANALYSIS: Eskom wildcat strike a sign of things to come

Analysts believe that this is a sign of things to come because workers in different sectors feel battered as wages shrink amid unaffordable rising prices.

FILE: Eskom Megawatt Park. Picture Xanderleigh Dookey-Makhaza/Eyewitness News.

JOHANNESBURG - As Eskom executives and union leaders thrash out the best and fastest way to resolve the current labour unrest at the power utility, finding a lasting solution to the dispute could prove difficult.

Workers at the utility’s various power stations have been on an unprotected strike since last Wednesday over working conditions and pay, with union leaders who spoke to Eyewitness News saying they were also “caught off guard”.

But analysts believe that this is a sign of things to come because workers in different sectors feel battered as wages shrink amid unaffordable rising prices.

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Eskom and trade union leaders convened Tuesday’s emergency meeting with one goal in mind: how to demobilise the striking workers.

These are artisans, engineers and other highly skilled employees who have continued offering their labour to the power utility despite major unilateral changes to their working conditions in the past few years.

From losing out on double payments for overtime work performed on holidays and while on standby, to having benefits such as transport and accommodation when being moved to other plants revoked and paltry wage increases, the list is long.

And with no warning to unions or the employer, they decided to down tools this week, bringing the frail Eskom to its knees. This sees the country helplessly facing stage six power cuts.

Because the strike is not protected, they risk losing their jobs.

But while Eskom speaks boldly about taking action against them, the reality is that it cannot afford to lose the rare skills they possess after suffering a brain drain during the state capture era.

Even so, the employer is obliged to first give the striking workers an ultimatum and the unions time to intervene.

Labour consultant, Tony Healy, weighs in on what it all means: "The option available to the employer to dismiss i snot a particularly palatable one because how are you going to function if you dismiss employees en masse if you're already in a difficult situation as Eskom is."

And South Africa is not alone in the increased pressures felt by workers.

Just last week, Britain witnessed its biggest rail strike in 30 years when 40,000 workers protested over working conditions and pay, causing major disruptions across networks and millions of passengers left in the lurch.

On Tuesday, Stats SA indicated that local gross earnings decreased by 3.4% in the first quarter as compared to the fourth quarter of 2021, with the electricity sector declining 3.1% year-on-year.