NEWS & ANALYSIS

Eskom's intention to massively dismiss members rejected – NUMSA

Union says SOE has total disregard for the rule of law, LRA and Basic Conditions of Employment Act

We reject Eskom's intention to massively dismiss NUM and NUMSA members

16 August 2018

The National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA) is dismayed and extremely irritated by the position adopted by the Eskom Board, the Eskom management team led by Phakamani Hadebe, and Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan. The position they have adopted is not only provocative, but consistently undermines both NUMSA and NUM in that since last week, we communicated through Gavin Hartford who was appointed by Minister Pravin Gordhan to assist parties in finding a resolution on all sticky issues during wage negotiations.

Through Eskom management, and Hartford we simply requested that a meeting of senior leadership involving NUM, NUMSA, Minister Pravin Gordhan, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe, the Eskom Board and Eskom senior leadership led by Phakamani Hadebe should take place no later than Monday, 13 August 2018. We made this request on Friday 10 August 2018 as a result of a stalemate or deadlock that led to unions refusing to sign the settlement agreement in this round of negotiations.

This is because Eskom at the tail end of the negotiations introduced a demand in the negotiations that they intend to take disciplinary measures against our members, something we viewed as bargaining in bad faith. We reject Eskom’s intention to massively dismiss NUM and NUMSA members!

THE LEADERSHIP OF ESKOM & MINISTERS DID NOT TAKE THE REQUEST FOR AN URGENT MEETING SERIOUSLY

NUMSA and NUM met on Monday and reflected on the fact that there was still no commitment from the Eskom Board and from the two Ministers and the senior leadership of Eskom. When we enquired on our request for a meeting, we discovered that the Group Chief Executive Phakamani Hadebe had taken leave even though wage negotiations had not been concluded, and the Chairman had gone abroad. This left a bitter taste in our mouths in that while unions were grappling to find a solution to Eskom problems, its senior leadership had no time to dirty its hands and work with the unions and provide the necessary leadership to resolve the current impasse.

We were left with no option but to put in writing our request for this important meeting. On behalf of NUMSA and NUM, we expressed the urgency of such a meeting, in that our members remain extremely frustrated by stupid delays and tactics employed by Eskom management that continue to postpone the conclusion of a settlement agreement. In the proposed settlement, workers will get an increase of 7.5% for the first year, 7% in the second year and 7% in the third year; housing allowance will be improved by CPI for the duration of the three-year agreement; as well as a R10 000, 00 cash lump sum payment which is a product of Eskom’s refusal to pay workers their due, deserved bonuses, something unions will continue to pursue.

WE WILL NOT TRADE THE LUMP SUM PAYMENT FOR JOB SECURITY!

Despite unions having stated in very clear terms that the situation remains tense on the ground due to unnecessarily protracted negotiations, and having expressed the urgency and importance of this meeting, the Eskom Board, Eskom management and Minister Pravin Gordhan responded in what appeared to be a caucus response or line that this matter must be handled within CCMA Section 150 process. There was no response from the Office of Minister Jeff Radebe or the Department of Energy. Again, the Eskom delegation was not led by Mr Phakamani Hadebe, but the meeting was still constituted by management with no power to take decisions. Indeed, in the meeting, management still maintained their intransigent position and stated their intention to take disciplinary measures against our members.

As unions, we further compromised and categorically stated to Eskom that we are willing to consider corrective disciplinary measures less than dismissal to workers who have been identified by Eskom to have committed acts of misconduct. We will represent our members within a fair disciplinary process and each and every case will have to be judged on its own merits. Eskom stubbornly maintained that they want to retain the right to dismiss members, something we completely reject under the circumstances. We reject the notion that the current wage settlement and the R10 000, 00 lump sum cash payment can be traded for job security.

It is NUMSA’s view that we are not in a position to give licence to the current, reckless leadership of Eskom led by Phakamani Hadebe whose short record having assumed leadership in Eskom leaves much to be desired. This includes his total disregard for the rule of law, Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment Act when he has taken the political decision to dismiss workers. We have solid evidence to believe that Eskom will not give our members a fair hearing. In fact, they will use the peaceful demonstrations that workers embarked upon in support of their wage demands as cheap ammunition to dismiss our members. Contrary to their cheap propaganda of presenting NUMSA and NUM as acting against the rule of law and in defiance of the Labour Relations Act, our experience tells a different story, which is the reason we completely refuse that Eskom can be trusted with the future and life of our members’ jobs.

The current leadership of Eskom has been found wanting, and in fact have broken the law in defiance of court judgments. If one looks at two of the judgments recently passed against Eskom led by Phakamani Hadebe in favour of Eskom employees.

THE LEADERSHIP OF ESKOM BREAKS THE RULES WHEN IT SUITS THEM!

Here is our history with the current leadership of Eskom. This leadership breaks the rules when it suits them. We are faced with a leadership that is not bothered that Eskom is constrained to act in line with the rule of law; and that unlawful actions are harmful to the rule of law. We are convinced that Eskom is determined to dismiss our members and if it fails to do so through disciplinary hearings, they will do so anyway unlawfully. Eskom has provoked our members through the zero percent increase, which were described by the Eskom Board Chairman Jabu Mabuza who admitted that approaching the wage talks with a 0% wage offer was a “tactical error and a bit wrong”. Group Chief Executive, Mr Hadebe must share responsibility and cannot get away with putting Eskom in crisis leading to load shedding, which was “technically wrong”.

If there is a person who must be charged with breaking the law, it must be Mr Phakamani Hadebe who has no regard for the Labour Relations Act. We cannot trust him with the disciplinary process, as he himself has dismissed Eskom employees at all levels of the Company without following due process. Dhiraj Bhimma, a NUMSA member was unfairly dismissed. Eskom has lost in court twice, yet it is willing to waste money it claims it does not have pursing this case for a third time. Prior to this unfair dismissal, Eskom took the same hard line with former CEO Matshela Koko, who defended himself in the Labour Court and won. 

ESKOM WILL DISMISS OUR MEMBERS WHETHER THE EVIDENCE EXISTS OR NOT

It is clear to NUMSA that Eskom will not respect the disciplinary processes they are insisting on. Recent history shows that when the outcome of the disciplinary process does not yield the desired result for Eskom, they set aside the disciplinary process and proceed with dismissals as they see fit. We reference two Labour Court judgments of 23 and 26 February 2018, Bhimma vs Eskom and Koko vs Eskom. The judgments of which are available on request.  

In two separate Labour Court judgments, Eskom was ordered to act specifically in accordance with the terms and conditions of the employees’ contract of employment, including Eskom’s disciplinary code, policies and procedures before terminating their employment.

Our member Mr Bhimma was unlawfully dismissed by Eskom without Eskom following its disciplinary code, policy and procedures. The Labour Court of 23 February 2018 ordered Eskom to reinstate Mr Bhimma. He was reinstated and immediately put on precautionary suspension and five months later, he was charged with misconduct. He was cleared of three of the four charges laid against him. The independent chairman recommended a written warning valid for twelve months for the remainder of the charge. More than 30 days later, our member remains suspended by Eskom. What is shocking is that Eskom has since written to him requesting he make a submission on why he should not be dismissed, which we believe is unlawful and constitutes abuse of power the Eskom leadership.

The Labour Court judgment of 26 February 2018, Koko vs Eskom is even more damning on Eskom leadership. It paints a picture of Eskom that is contemptuous of the rule of law. Based on the evidence before the court, Mr Hadebe’s approach is that if the reasons that justify summary dismissals do not exist, he will dismiss in any case. This is what we believe will happen to our members.

CONCLUDING THE IPP DEAL WAS BOTH UNLAWFUL AND IRRATIONAL

Under the current Eskom leadership led by Phakamani Hadebe, we are presented with actions that are both unlawful and irrational. An example of this is the signing of the 27 IPP contracts on 04 April 2018. Eskom argued in the North Gauteng High Court that the signing of the IPP agreements will worsen its liquidity position. It presented a similar argument during the NERSA application for the Regulatory Clearing Account in 2018, an argument that NUMSA agrees with. But this is notwithstanding that Eskom took an irrational decision to go ahead and sign the IPPs on 04 April 2018. In doing so, Eskom broke its duty of care. We therefore believe that this Eskom leadership does not care and is determined to dismiss our members and will do so, even when the reasons for summary dismissals do not exist.

This is the reason why we are refusing to sign the current wage settlement agreement as we reject the notion that our members must face dismissal by a reckless Eskom management. As unions, we are left with no option but to reject Eskom’s intention to dismiss our members. We shall go back to our members in the form of general meetings in line with our principle of a worker controlled union to provide feedback to our members and remain firm that workers must remain united against Eskom management and the Board’s abuse of power, who are exploiting the fact that all Eskom workers are deemed to be an essential service.

It is our firm belief that just because Eskom is deemed to be an essential service, this does not empower Eskom management and Board to violate and suppress workers’ rights. It is our submission that Eskom cannot, overnight, be turned into a prison on the basis that it is deemed to be an essential service. NUMSA wants to be on record that from now onwards, we want to inform the public that in light of the provocations championed by Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Eskom Board through their refusal to intervene and stop Eskom’s intention to dismiss workers, if this sensitive situation finally does escalate, they will have to take full responsibility.

We want to state once more that the situation is intensifying as our members will soon be demanding full implementation of what has been secured in negotiations and they are fully rejecting Eskom’s intention to dismiss them. This is why, once more, we are calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Pravin Gordhan, Jeff Radebe and the Eskom Board to convene an urgent meeting to resolve the current deadlock, centred on Eskom’s stated intention to dismiss workers.

WE NOTE ESKOMS ILL ADVISED DECISION TO DECLARE A DISPUTE AGAINST UNIONS

We further note Eskom’s ill-advised decision to declare a dispute against unions. This is a demonstration of inferior, if not stupid, human resource leadership as it constitutes a reckless, provocative decision by management that refuses to learn. Previously when such a dispute was declared, it led to load shedding, negatively affecting the economy and undermining the country’s ratings. It was the same provocation during this phase of difficult negotiations, where, as unions, we had to play a strategic and extraordinary role to normalise the situation in the interests of the South African public and the economy. We think that the reckless decisions that are being implemented by the current leadership to declare a dispute is not just provocative, but it has the potential to plunge the economy into waves of load shedding. Therefore, the current leadership of Eskom, for their provocative and reckless decisions, will have to be held accountable.

Aluta continua!

The struggle continues!

Issued by Phakamile Hlubi –Majola, NUMSA National Spokesperson, 16 August 2018