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South African unions oppose plans to privatize power utility Eskom

11 February, 2019Unions are rejecting a proposal to dismantle the state-owned power utility Eskom made by the President Cyril Ramaphosa during the State of the Nation address on 8 February, saying this will cause job losses and retrenchments that will affect over 100,000 workers.

The proposal is to break Eskom into three parts -- generation, transmission and distribution. Other parts of Eskom considered to be non-core will be privatized.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) are against the proposed dismantling and privatization and says they will respond through mass action, protests and strikes should the government proceed with the plans.

Says David Sipunzi, the general secretary of NUM:

“NUM is against any attempt to unbundle Eskom. It is the privatization of Eskom to enrich the elites and not about saving costs. We, therefore, call upon the government to reconsider its position because it is anti-working class and the poor. It will result in electricity being expensive and unaffordable to the poor. The NUM is going to fight tooth and nail against the unbundling.”

Irvin Jim, general secretary of NUMSA concurs:

“The government took the decision to privatize a national asset, which is owned by the public, without bothering to consult the most important stakeholder, which is labour and the community at large. The working class is opposed to any privatization plans of our state-owned enterprises, particularly, Eskom.” Jim says the government must come up with a social plan that includes a Just Transition after consulting unions. He adds that consulting after making an announcement is a “box-ticking exercise.”

The union positions on Eskom were presented to the government during a march to the Union building in 2018, and they include an energy mix policy that considers coal mines and a socially-owned renewable energy sector that benefits workers and communities and not only a few independent power producers. Last year the government gave contracts to 27 independent power producers in the renewable energy sector to the disappointment of the unions.

Says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa:

“There is need for social dialogue between government, unions and communities on the Eskom proposals. Unions are willing to engage as stakeholders representing thousands of workers who will be affected by the unbundling through job losses and retrenchments.”