Progress is being made on the overhaul of the problematic project labour agreement (PLA) at the Medupi and Kusile power-station sites, in Lephalale and Emalahleni respectively, with Eskom still optimistic that a new deal could be struck before the end of May.
However, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) has warned that its attention could be diverted from the negotiations, owing to recent threats by one of the contractors on site to dismiss some of its members following a recent confrontation at the strike-prone Medupi site.
Overall, though, there was general agreement that the PLA negotiations were being taken seriously by all participants, with Eskom, the seven unions involved, as well as the contractors having dedicated senior personnel to resolve labour tensions on both sites.
Eskom FD Paul O’Flaherty told Engineering News Online that “good progress” was being made on the formulation of a new agreement and that he was still optimistic of meeting the end of May timeframe.
He said he could not elaborate on the changes being proposed, as these were still the subject of negotiations and would only be announced once finalised.
Eskom had employed various independent facilitators, led by Charles Nupen, to help shepherd the process to a conclusion.
Numsa national basic metals and energy sector coordinator Stephen Nhlapo told Engineering News Online that the six outside facilitators had helped advance the process, but warned that a number of outstanding matters still needed to be resolved.
He said the focus, hitherto, had been on the overall framework for labour relations on the two sites and that, over the coming days, attention should shift to the “substantive issues”.
The unions were keen for the issues of bonuses and incentives, as well as the payment rates for general workers to be prioritised. Eskom and the contractors, however, were keen to extract productivity commitments.
Numsa would also be pushing for a training commitment, with Nhlapo noting that skill recognition was of growing concern in light of the fact that some workers faced demobilisation in the not too distant future.
O’Flaherty insisted that the new PLA would not affect overall project costs. “In fact, it should improve productivity.”
Nhlapo warned, though, that progress could be delayed by the belligerence shown recently by a certain contractor linked to the turbine package on the Medupi site. The contractor had reportedly moved to dismiss more than 800 Numsa members in recent days after a conflict with a supervisor.
He warned that unless “maturity” was shown, renewed stoppages at Medupi might become unavoidable. The site was closed for 10 weeks earlier this year, owing to labour unrest.
Following intervention by Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba work resumed in April, after it was agreed that the PLA would be replaced by a “partnering arrangement”.
Power from Medupi’s first unit, or Unit 6, was still anticipated by December. But the schedule could be put at risk should there be a repeat of past disruptions.
The 4 800 MW Medupi project was expected to cost R91-billion and was scheduled to reach full commercial operations in 2016.