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Eskom’s Medupi strikers make huge demands

Striking workers at Eskom’s Medupi power station construction site have demanded, among other things, a bonus of R10,000 for the successful synchronisation of Unit 6 as well as payment for a further 200 hours for each of the 13,000 workers on site.  

They have threatened to withdraw their labour unless Eskom responds to these and other demands on Friday.  The majority of the striking workers are members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).  Eskom closed the site on Wednesday after about 8,000 workers embarked on an unprotected site.  The rest of the workers on site were sent home for their own safety.  Contractors allegedly did not allow the workers back on site on Thursday, although there was no official lock-out.

 Deon Reyneke, sector head at union Solidarity, said the union was extremely concerned about a possible recurrence of protracted labour unrest that paralysed work at Medupi in 2013 and was one of the big factors behind the delay in the completion of the project.  “Any such event may lead to further delays at Medupi and with the current leadership vacuum at Eskom workers are bound to take advantage of the situation,” he said.  

A Numsa representative at Medupi (unnamed) said that the workers were also demanding the removal of all expatriate workers from the site.  He estimated that there were up to 1,000 foreign workers on site, mostly from South East Asia and recently from the Balkan countries.  He claimed they are not only in highly skilled jobs, but had taken jobs of blue collar workers that could be done by locals.  

Other demands apparently include: retrenchments on the contract for the construction of a particular pipeline to be put on hold until all expatriate workers were removed from Medupi and those jobs to be given to the pipeline workers instead; a food allowance, rather than the warm food parcels received daily; a stop to the movement of workers from accommodation in town, paid for by the employer, to hostels; and payment of a monthly travel allowance equal to 16 hours’ wages, tax-free.  According to Reyneke, overall the demands were ridiculous and unaffordable.  “They are just looking for an excuse to disrupt work on the site,” he said.