15 January, 2020Close to 100 workers picketed outside the offices of power utility Eskom in Johannesburg today, demanding that the process of splitting the state-owned enterprise be stopped.
This follows earlier announcements by the government that Eskom will be broken from a single entity into three companies for generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. Unions say that the unbundling, a pretext for privatization, would lead to thousands of jobs losses. Currently Eskom employs close to 100,000 workers, including those along the value chain.
The unions are calling for the resignation of the minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan and the Eskom board be dissolved for failing to end the Eskom crisis. The Eskom crisis reached a peak last year when unprecedented levels of power outages plunged the country into darkness.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), both affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, wanted to present their memorandum of demands to the newly appointed group chief executive Andre De Ruyter, who did not show but instead sent members of the management team.
Among the unions’ demands are that Eskom be run by “credible and knowledgeable managers and not politicians” and for labour to be involved in decision making processes within the power utility. Unions want to be represented on the Eskom board and to be part of the executive committee.
The unions also said Eskom is buying expensive power from independent power producers only to sell to consumers at a loss. The utility is also failing to collect debt from municipalities and other debtors and fraudulent activities have left a huge dent on the utility’s finances. Eskom also has a debt of over 400 billion Rands (US$27.8 billion).
When Eskom amended the previous criteria for performance bonuses workers were not consulted, and the unions are now demanding it be reversed. The unions want outsourced services to be taken over by workers employed directly under Eskom’s conditions of service as this provides job security and end precarious working conditions.
Diana Junquera Curiel, IndustriALL director for the energy industry, says:
“We urge the South African government to recognize unions organizing in the energy sector as key stakeholders and consult them on issues affecting workers. We have seen similar cases in other countries and unbundling always leads to retrenchments and jeopardize workers’ conditions. Even in such cases unions have to be part of the negotiations for fair compensation.”