Unions stand firm against Eskom unbundling

A freight train leaves the Eskom power plant in Hendrina on February 22, 2018, after having discharged its load of coal. Picture: MARCO LONGARI / AFP

A freight train leaves the Eskom power plant in Hendrina on February 22, 2018, after having discharged its load of coal. Picture: MARCO LONGARI / AFP

The financially struggling state-owned enterprise last year mooted job cuts as a solution to its ongoing crisis.

Amid the raging debate over President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plan to split Eskom into three entities, the 700,000-strong SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has thrown its weight behind its largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), in mounting resistance to what it regarded as “privatisation” of the power utility.

Plagued by high levels of inefficiency and a weak balance sheet, Eskom – with more than 40,000 employees – has for years depended on huge government bailouts to fund its operational costs, which included salaries.

The financially struggling state-owned enterprise (SOE) last year mooted job cuts as a solution to its ongoing crisis.

READ MORE: Ramaphosa’s Eskom plans ‘a war against the poor’

Ramaphosa has denied that the move to unbundle Eskom into three companies was about “privatisation”. He said the aim was to make the SOE “more efficient”.

This has drawn sharp criticism from labour, with Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim threatening protest action, should government go ahead with “privatisation of Eskom”.

Saftu spokesperson Patrick Craven said yesterday the federation was fully behind Numsa’s call for protest action.

“There has been talk about the need for a private investment at Eskom. “The introduction of independent power producers (IPPs) marks the beginning of the privatisation of the energy utility. These are private companies seeking to make huge profits out of Eskom,” said Craven.

In what his department said would amount to R55.92 billion in new direct investment in the energy sector, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe last year signed agreements with IPPs on behalf of Eskom.

Craven maintained that there was “no reason why Eskom should be split”.

“Given the propaganda from business, disguised as making Eskom efficient, the real motive is more towards privatisation, which will lead to 50 000 jobs to be lost, especially in the area of power generation.

“This will have a huge impact. Already they are talking about retrenchments – an excuse to lay off workers. “Numsa has already said that it will take to the streets and Saftu will mobilise its members to join in solidarity.”

Craven said Eskom’s pending unbundling would feature prominently during the federation’s upcoming two-day “total shutdown” planned for March 26 and 27.

“The general strike will be a total shutdown and an occupation of the cities and towns by the unemployed and the employed; and the landless and the property-less,” Craven said.

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