Coal strike talks fail, power disruption fears intensify

19th March 2013 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

JOHANNESBURG ( – Talks to end the coal strikes at Exxaro coal-mines have been unsuccessful and the fear of electricity disruption at the power stations the mines serve is intensifying.

Diversified resources group Exxaro said in a media release, on Tuesday, that, following unsuccessful engagement with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) over the past week, regarding proposals to bring an end to the unprotected strike affecting the group’s operations, an urgent interdict calling on wildcat strikers to return to work had been obtained from the Labour Court on Tuesday afternoon, which would be served on the workers.

At a Monday night meeting between Exxaro management and the NUM leadership, an eight-point proposal put forward by Exxaro was rejected.

According to unconfirmed but alarming reports from reliable sources close to both the coal mines and the power stations, the two-week-long Exxaro strike was exacerbated by the overturning of two haul trucks at the Grootegeluk coal mine in Limpopo.

The emailed reports stated that no coal was being delivered to power stations from the Grootegeluk, Arnot and Matla collieries and construction at the new Medupi power station was once again at a standstill.

The reports added that power supply was under pressure and the emergency coal stockpile at Matimba power station had declined to 15 days.

Exxaro said that it had previously considered a list of concerns raised by employees and suggestions submitted by NUM to resolve the strike at the Matla, Arnot, Grootegeluk, Leeuwpan, Inyanda and Reductants operations.

A central issue was the nonpayment of performance incentives.

As the striking employees did not achieve performance targets, which would have entitled them to an incentive payment, Exxaro said it was not prepared to reward the employees with additional payments.

Although NUM had not initiated the unprotected strikes, it was in fact NUM members who were out on strike.

The union’s suggestion to resolve the issue of the nonpayment of performance incentives was for striking employees to receive an across-the-board once-off payment.

Instead, Exxaro put forward a proposal, which included the payment of the first quarter 2013 incentive of 2% of yearly salary.

That would equate to a minimum of R2 000 for all employees in exchange for striking employees returning to work.

Although the proposal had been rejected, Exxaro said it was committed to ongoing engagement with its recognised trade unions in order to find a win-win solution and avert the possible negative effect that a prolonged strike could have on Eskom’s electricity generation and the economy of South Africa as a whole.

Exxaro reiterated the call for striking employees to return to work.

As the “no-work, no-pay” principle applied, it was in the best interests of striking employees to resume their normal duties as soon as possible, it said.

In yet a further attempt to avoid the possible dismissal of striking employees by issuing an ultimatum, as it was entitled to do in law, Exxaro had approached the Labour Court to obtain an urgent interdict directing striking employees to immediately stop the strike and resume their normal duties.

The urgent interdict would be heard in the Labour Court this afternoon and, if granted, would be served on striking employees.

Exxaro viewed in a serious light the instances of escalated violence and damage to property by striking employees at operations.

Production at the affected operations had stopped.

At this stage, mines supplying coal to Eskom power stations had contingency plans to maintain the functionality of their respective power stations.

Exxaro continued to work closely with Eskom to ensure the availability of coal supply and currently there were adequate levels of supply available.

Exxaro is one of the largest South Africa-based diversified resources groups, with interests in the coal, mineral sands, ferrous and energy markets.