The National Union of Mineworkers has warned of a massive strike that might leave South Africa in the cold this winter if its dispute with Eskom about the implementation of a service agreement is not resolved soon.
The union, which represents about 16000 of the 31000 workers at Eskom, said yesterday that it wanted to know who was classified as an essential-service worker at the national power utility.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the implementation of the agreement would lay the groundwork for the start of the negotiating season.
"They [Eskom] are deliberately dragging with this matter because they don't want a strike.
"Parliament's essential-services committee designated Eskom as an essential-service provider, which means a minimum number of workers can strike.
"It does not make sense for cleaners, gardeners, security guards or switchboard operators to be classified as essential-service workers," Seshoka said.
"The minimum service-level agreement would apply to workers such as technicians, who are required to respond to emergency situations, such as a power failure, which might lead to loss of life if not attended to."
He said the union would today submit its negotiating demands, including those for improved wages, while it fought the implementation of the agreement.
The implementation of the agreement was among the issues the unions at the power utility used to threaten a blackout during the World Cup last year.
The parties went on to fight the matter at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. That body ruled in favour of the unions. Eskom took the dispute to the Labour Appeal Court, which also favoured the unions.
Eskom then went to the Supreme Court of Appeal. The date on which the matter will be heard has not been announced.
The National Union of Metalworkers, which has 7000 members at Eskom, said it would press ahead with its wage demands, irrespective of whether the agreement were implemented.