Business

Eskom workers strike despite court ruling

Eskom picket line

South Africa's largest union is going ahead with plans to picket the country's main energy supplier.

This is despite a court order barring it from undertaking strike action at the firm.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) went on strike on Tuesday to demand higher wages.

Part of the demand is a pay increase for staff at the state-funded energy utility Eskom, where NUMSA has around 10,000 members.

About 600 Eskom employees were estimated to be picketing the company on Wednesday.

Eskom provides the vast majority of South Africa's electricity and is deemed an essential service, therefore any strike is illegal.

On Tuesday afternoon, South Africa's labour court ruled that NUMSA would not be permitted to strike at any of Eskom's plants.

'Bonuses to themselves'

"We went to the Labour Court today and an interdict was granted preventing NUMSA embarking on a strike at Eskom," the company's spokesman Andrew Etzinger told Reuters.

NUMSA's secretary-general Irvin Jim believes it should be allowed to strike and blamed Eskom's management for giving "bonuses to themselves" without seeing the "need to give workers a living wage".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The union estimates 200,000 took part in the strike action

Speaking to the BBC earlier he said: "With Eskom we have said to them for years now, let's sit down and deal with the issue of demarcation, because as a union we firmly believe it is not true that the whole of Eskom is an essential service.

"We could have departments that will not affect electricity... and they could be able to carry the plight of other workers by embarking on a legally protected strike," he said.

There are concerns that should industrial unrest spread to workers at Eskom, then the country's already fragile power sector could be vulnerable to disruption.

Strike cost

Yesterday's strike action has already affected construction work at two new power stations being built.

On Tuesday union members took part in marches held in major cities across the country including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) has warned that the strike would cost industry 300 million rand (US$28 million) a day.

The trade body's chief executive, Kaizer Nyatsumba told the BBC: "The strike will affect every company within the sector. SEIFSA represents 27 associations, that are made up of more than 2000 companies, that employ more than 200,000 individuals."

"Each one of those companies including those that aren't within the SEIFSA fold will be affected"

This latest industrial action comes only a week after the end of a five-month long strike at South Africa's platinum mines, which crippled the sector.

Related Topics

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites