THE six-week strike at Eskom’s Medupi site in Limpopo is heading towards a messy climax on Wednesday with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and several other unions planning to return to work, but the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) continuing with industrial action.

Eskom is desperate for an end to the dispute as it must bring Medupi’s first power into the grid by December to avoid power cuts and planned load-shedding next year.

On Friday, Eskom financial director Paul O’ Flaherty said the company had reopened the site and had told contractors it expected them to take disciplinary action against anyone who did not report for work on Wednesday. Disciplinary processes should take their course for all employees who had participated in the unprotected strike, he said.

On Friday, the NUM and three other unions reached an agreement with contractors. Everyone who returned to work would get a month’s salary and an interest-free loan equal to another two weeks’ salary, to enable them to recover their lost earnings. Each employee would also receive a final written warning.

NUM regional secretary Sidwell Dokolwana said "our members have been pushing us to go back to work. We can’t tell Numsa to go back to work and they can’t ask us why we have signed the agreement."

Numsa organiser Stephen Nhlapo said its members would not return until their demands were met. "Numsa still has a dispute. We don’t have an agreement. Whatever NUM does is up to them," he said.

Mr Nhlapo claimed of the 17,000 workforce, Numsa had more members than all other unions put together. NUM organised workers in construction and Numsa organised in engineering. As the building phase was now ending, many NUM members would soon be "demobilised". Numsa workers would be at Medupi for five years more. " You can’t ignore that. Employers are wasting their time and resources negotiating with other unions."

Mr O’Flaherty said: "We are now back to where we were six weeks ago. The project labour agreement … must now be implemented. Disciplinary steps must be taken."

On Medupi’s deadline, he said there was no clarity yet: "I can’t say today we will make it. It’s tight."