Turn off the lights or light a Candle – Workers are in a fighting mood!

As we pen this article we are hearing loud voices of workers singing. Singing a song by Teddy Pendergrass with the lyrics twisted ‘turn off the lights; and light a candle; workers are in a fighting mood’.

We were not aware such a romantic song could be translated into a call to action by workers in our country, more especially workers at Eskom.

Collapsed negotiations

On Friday, 25 June 2010, the three unions organized at Eskom, Numsa, Num and Solidarity, convened a press conference to inform the members, and the public of the collapsed negotiations and intended action against Eskom.

The thrust of our press conference was to highlight the major demands of workers, compared to what Eskom is offering, which we have characterized as ‘apartheid income offer”.

Soon after the new ruling oligarchy took office in 2009, the Zuma administration committed itself to the creation of decent work.

This decent work mantra is now the electoral mandate of the new administration as evidenced by the electoral victory of the ruling ANC.

The decent work agenda is consistent with our unions living wage campaign geared towards improving the socio-economic and living conditions of workers and the poor.

Decent work should also be about decent pay, through an equal distribution of wealth at the point of production.

This means that state entities such as Eskom, and others, need to play an instrumental role in the realization of this goal by government.

Already our country has overtaken Brazil as one of the most unequal countries in the world. This is a sad indictment, and a betrayal of the struggle waged by workers over years for a living wage and better world order.

The collapsed wage negotiations with Eskom should be located within the broader struggles of advancing a decent work agenda through equal distribution of wealth at the point of production.

The experience from our first decade of freedom shows that, despite government’s progressive interventions, many of our workers remain poor and are living on less than a dollar a day.

Many are unable to support their families or afford schooling for their children, provide food and obtain access to better health-care.

These are the daily hardships faced by workers, and our people, on a daily basis in townships and informal settlements.
These conditions are not only captured in statistical reports by government, but are manifesting themselves in our townships and workplaces in unprecedented numbers of service delivery and living wage protests.

On average a worker supports nine dependants, thus the redistribution of income is occurring from workers upwards.

Our demands to Eskom management are affordable, and reasonable, given the huge R3, 6 billion profit recorded by the utility during the current year ; the R12, 6 million wasted by Eskom executives in buying 1110 World Cup tickets for themselves and their girlfriends and boyfriends; and even worse, the R2, 6 million set aside for bonuses to be shared by five individuals.

Our demands are informed by the fact that Eskom is a monopoly, and that its senior executives continuously pay themselves salaries and bonuses so absurdly high that its failed CEO Jacob Maroga is demanding R85 Million in settlement.

These are our reasonable demands;

• 20% wage increment across the board;

• standardized R5000 housing allowance for all workers;

• six months paid maternity leave;

• total prohibition on labour brokers;

The immediate challenge is for government, particularly the Ministry of Public Enterprises to broker a wage settlement that is acceptable to workers.

This must be done in the same manner that resolved the protracted doctors’ strike.

This mandate is clear before we ‘turn off the lights and light candles because we are in a fighting mood”.

Castro Ngobese, National Spokespersons of Numsa


Numsa News No 2, July 2010