South Africa’s NUM union starts strike at Eskom power plants

The National Union of Mineworkers said some of its members have started a strike about wages at Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd.’s power plants over frustration at negotiations with the South African state-owned utility.

The union on Aug. 5 sent a letter asking its members at Eskom to suspend the labor action as discussions resumed, Paris Mashego, energy sector coordinator for NUM, said by phone Monday. After little progress was made over the weekend, NUM decided to commence with the strike, he said.

The union represents about a third of the utility’s 42,000 employees. Eskom, which supplies about 95 percent of power to Africa’s most-industrialized economy, has said it has contingency plans for a strike, which is prohibited by labor law because electricity delivery is considered an essential service. The union has accused the utility of hiding behind that status and trimmed its pay demand to a 12 percent increase, with Eskom offering 7 percent. South African inflation quickened to 6.3 percent in June.

“All our 27 power stations across the country operate as normal at this stage,” Khulu Phasiwe, an Eskom spokesman, said by phone. “It’s too early to say” what the effect of any such action will be, but workers are required to report for duty, he said.

The Arnot, Matla, Duvha and Tutuka power stations will be affected by the strike, Mashego said. About 15 percent of the NUM’s 15,000 members at Eskom are participating in the work stoppage so far, according to the union.

Phasiwe said disruptive activity was noted at one of the generating sites. “There were attempts by a small group of protesters to blockade the road going toward the Arnot power station at 2 a.m., but with the assistance of the police, the road was cleared.”

While Eskom has gone a year without implementing power cuts needed to protect the grid when demand exceeds supply, strikes by contractors have contributed to delays in bringing new plants on line.